Daemen University was one of only a dozen U.S. institutions of higher learning to achieve a perfect score in the Special Olympics Challenge for the 2022 Virtual College Championship Week presented by ESPN.
Placing third nationally out of 30 schools, Daemen finished behind only the University of Florida and University of North Dakota – two much larger state universities – in the level of social media activity generated for the competition.
“This was a huge win as a small school and a first-time competitor,” said Colleen Wilkinson, assistant professor in Daemen’s Education Department who helped lead the team of university students and local Special Olympic athletes.
Exploring an overarching theme of inclusivity, Daemen’s team achieved a perfect score by completing the competition’s full battery of challenges, which included organizing unified sports and arts activities, and then posting original content on social media to generate awareness.
“It is always important to think about inclusion,” said Wilkinson. “It should be a theme in our minds, including when planning activities on campus.”
Among Daemen’s posts was a campus VIP inclusion pledge – an Instagram video of Senior Vice President for Strategic Initiatives Greg Nayor speaking on ways the university embraces inclusivity.
Wilkinson said there was much anticipation and excitement felt when the team watched the results ceremony hosted by ESPN.
“We’re all watching the results ceremony live, and they’re reading names and getting closer to number 1, it was like holy cow, this is so exciting, we made it into the top 10 – and then the top 5,” recalled Wilkinson.
“We are so proud of achieving this together – but it’s also about the theme we explored and the connections students made with each other and Special Olympians,” she added.
In fact, Wilkinson said students are already plotting next year’s plan for the challenge with discussions on recruiting for the fall underway.
“We’re ready to give Florida a run for their money,” she said.
Many student team members are involved with the Center for Allied and Unified Sport and Exercise (CAUSE) at Daemen, which provides opportunities for people with disabilities to develop physical fitness and experience the camaraderie and sportsmanship that comes with participation in athletics.