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The Old Dominion Athletic Conference has announced it will partner with Special Olympics Virginia as part of an initiative adopted by the Division III Student-Athlete Advisory Committee at the NCAA Convention in January.
“From the moment the NCAA announced the Division III SAAC initiative with Special Olympics, I knew this was a great opportunity,” said ODAC Commissioner Brad Bankston. “Our missions are similar, and what better way to give back to the community than by integrating with Special Olympics.”
Special Olympics Virginia serves more than 10,000 athletes through seven regional offices and 29 area programs. It is one of 52 U.S. programs, and part of a global movement that serves three million athletes in more than 180 countries.
The ODAC’s coverage of the Commonwealth is just as expansive. Twelve of the conference’s 13 full-time members span from the southwestern corner of the state up to Harrisonburg and across to the East Coast. The inclusion of Shenandoah for the 2012-13 academic year increases the ODAC’s Virginia footprint.
“Our membership provides a unique opportunity to partner with Special Olympics Virginia, covering every corner of the state,” Bankston said.
Several of the league’s schools already participate in events with SOVA. The official partnership between the ODAC and SOVA will help strengthen current relationships and build new opportunities throughout the state, Bankston said.
“Special Olympics Virginia and the Old Dominion Athletic Conference are doing the exact same thing every single day; using sports as a vehicle to make all of us more than we were before,” said Rick Jeffrey, president of SOVA. “SOVA and ODAC athletes play for the joy of the sport, the love of the game, the development of the self. I cannot wait to see how our Special Olympics athletes benefit from the interaction with the great players in the ODAC. I also believe the ODAC players will learn a little something, too.”
The Division III SAAC began exploring a national community-outreach initiative during its meetings in November 2008 and January 2009. SAAC members sought input from institutional and conference SAACs before making a recommendation. To facilitate the effort with Special Olympics, the Division III SAAC will establish a subcommittee to work with conferences to coordinate at least one conference SAAC activity with Special Olympics during the academic year.
The ODAC’s experience with Special Olympics Virginia took its first steps at the 2011 NCAA Division III Men’s Basketball Championship in Salem, Va. A co-sponsor in the event, the ODAC was part of the planning group that included SOVA athletes in several activities, including exhibition games, surrounding the national semifinals and the Reese’s All-Star Game.
The ODAC also played a role in hosting Special Olympics athletes at the Division III Softball Championship in May, also in Salem.
“This partnership is a natural fit and something I expect our student-athletes to cherish for years to come,” said Bankston.