Liberty News

Special Olympics athletes become stars at Liberty Convocation

October 5, 2016 : Liberty University News Service

The Liberty University Vines Center was transformed into an Olympic arena Wednesday as more than 10,000 students split into two teams on either side — red and blue — to cheer on athletes from Special Olympics Virginia.

As red lights and blue lights shined on the seats, Sparky (Liberty’s mascot) kicked off the celebration with Liberty’s cheerleading team, the Liberty men’s basketball team, and members of the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office who lined up to high-five the athletes when they paraded into the arena. The crowd gave a thunderous applause, the cauldron was lit, and the games started.

More than 120 athletes from three different area high schools participated in basketball and powerlifting. And they had plenty of supporters — Liberty students stood up the entire time, holding up signs and cheering loudly. The videoboard above center court showed introductions from the athletes themselves as well as live coverage from Liberty Flames Sports Network announcers during the event. Pre-recorded videos featuring athletes competing in swimming events at the LaHaye Aquatic Center and a wheel chair race at Liberty’s Matthes-Hopkins Track Complex were also shown.

At the end of the games, the athletes lined up in the center of the court to receive medals presented by the Flames Basketball team.

Rick Jeffery, Special Olympics Virginia president, then addressed the crowd, thanking Liberty for its show of support. He also thanked police departments that have raised $1.3 million for Special Olympics this year.

Jeffery shared touching stories of Special Olympics athletes, including that of one girl who told him that “God made her, and God does not make mistakes.”

“Unfortunately, not everyone has gotten the message, and our Special Olympic athletes and people with intellectual disabilities live a life with high levels of rejection and loneliness and very low levels of inclusion and acceptance,” he said.

Jeffery said that the organization is working every day to build schools and communities that are “more respectful toward those with physical and intellectual disabilities, more inclusive in their makeup, and more unified in their fabric.”

“I am so pleased to tell you today that Liberty is one of those school communities,” he told the crowd. “We believe if we are all together, we will do what we are doing today at Liberty. You are creating a model of the way the world should be — everybody together, rich in understanding, not judging. That is how the world should be. If we live unified and play unified, we will be unified.”

After Convocation, Liberty students stayed to meet the athletes and sign autographs.