Middlebury

Special Sundays

April 30, 2012

Sunday afternoons can be quiet times at Middlebury, especially on the basketball court inside Pepin Gymnasium. But for a few Sundays during the winter, the court, home to the then top-ranked men’s basketball team, hosted a grand collection of students and community members with their own brand of hoops. Dozens of students, including members of the football, swimming, women’s basketball and volleyball teams morphed into coaches and supporters of a new group of athletes—members of the Special Olympics of Addison County.

This past winter, students Joe Tamposi and Harris Huguenard along with College employee Mike Pixley connected with Jim Wacker of the Special Olympics of Addison County to devise a program best-suited to incorporate students and Special Olympians. With the consent of the College to use Pepin Gym, the decision was made to create a unified league of participants.  

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“Unified sports are basically sports that allow athletes with and without disabilities to play together on the same teams. It seemed perfect because we really wanted to be able to have our students get to know these Special Olympic athletes on a personal level and have fun playing sports together,” said Tamposi.

The organizers settled on four one-hour events stretched across several Sundays. It was designed with four teams (the Green Oysters, Blue Celtics, Purple Avalanche, and Red Hillbillies) that would play one 30 minute game with a designed blend of students and Olympians on each squad. The teams, with one student coach, warmed-up with exercises and shooting drills before the game. After the game, everyone intermingled to discuss the game and share personal experiences with the group.

Pixley, a locksmith at the College, has been involved with Special Olympics for 15 years and has worked with countless College volunteers, both students and staff during that time. He got involved in Special Olympics a number of years ago to help his daughter cope with her disability. “The students have been amazing,” remarked Pixley.  “The athletes and the students hit it off right away and the real beauty of it is that everyone was so comfortable with each other and the games are fun for everyone.  I have to say Harris [Huguenard] and Joe [Tamposi] are remarkable young men and along with the rest of the students have made a positive impression on the athletes and myself.”

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The success of the winter program encouraged Tamposi and others to consider future events tied into the Special Olympics and the people with that program in Addison County. “We're hoping to continue with the unified league in the future as well as run a swimming clinic,” said Tamposi. “Next year we have a number of things lined up, but we are still in the very early stages of working out the logistics and getting approval. It's been really important for us to have the support of the College Administration in all of these endeavors because working with Special Olympics is a truly fulfilling way for our athletic programs to keep involved with the Addison County community.”

Update: The Addison County basketball team, coached by Mike Pixley, along with their fans will be traveling to the University of Vermont for a tournament at Patrick Gymnasium on April 28-29. For more information about the tournament or to find volunteer opportunities, click below: http://www.specialolympicsvermont.org/.

-- Joe Early --