By Katie Beauregard, Contributing Writer
The Lundholm Gymnasium was filled with cheering fans, dance teams, mascots and the University of New Hampshire marching band as the Portsmouth Clippers and Pinkerton Astros Special Olympic basketball teams competed. There wasn’t a silent moment as the teams played and Wildcats cheered on with enthusiasm and excitement.
On Wednesday, the University of New Hampshire Student Occupational Therapy Association (SOTA) put together one of its largest events yet — The first Special Spirit at UNH, a free event to give Special Olympics athletes a chance to participate in athletics with the collegiate experience. Along with many other events like Spread the Word to End the Word and SOTA Siblings, SOTA works hard to involve their major with the university. Rachel Grady, the co-president of SOTA, had a chance to talk more about Special Spirit at UNH and the work that was put into the event.
“It brings Special Olympics basketball teams here,” Grady said. “Giving them the collegiate-like environment of sports games with the crazy fans, entertainment and everything.”
Planning since January, Grady could not have been more thrilled with the outcome. After working for months on advertising, getting in touch with other university organizations, local businesses and newspapers, it was an amazing and upbeat site to see.
“We are so pleased with the outcome,” Grady said.
Bethany Cinka, a member of the Pinkerton Astros, was thrilled by the event.
“I like it here,” Cinka said. “Lots of audience members, cheering, lots of good stuff happening.”
After playing on her team for four years at Pinkerton Academy, senior Cinka has enjoyed all of the events that her team participates in— the University of Massachusetts hosts a similar event, which she has played in. Her enthusiasm alone, and supporting her teammate, Tate Theos, showed just how much spirit Cinka, and the Pinkerton Astros possess.
Theos, a returning player for the Astros who has been involved for many years, discussed how important this event is to him and his teammates.
“This event is really good— it’s tough but it’s good for [the team],” Theos said. “We have a very good team right now, we are much better.”
As both teams continued to score and enjoy the game, many members of SOTA were also enjoying the event. For Emily Zarrow, who works as a therapeutic and adaptive ride instructor, volunteering at Special Spirit at UNH was an overall great and fulfilling experience.
“For me, any recreational event that helps and gets everyone involved is really awesome, and I like being a part of that,” Zarrow said.
While the marching band continued to play, enthusiastic fans with painted faces chanted, and members of the UNH men’s basketball team showed off their dunking skills. It was obvious to everyone there: Special Spirit at UNH was a hit.