For over two decades, the University of Pittsburgh has hosted the Allegheny County Special Olympics Basketball Tournament, and after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, the event is coming back to Pitt! Sports Medicine and Nutrition Department Chair Kevin Conley is the University’s liaison with the Special Olympics staff and has helped bring an array of Pitt resources to the tournament over the years. As they gear up for the 2022 games, Conley is excited to see them return on March 13.
The schedule consists of a skills competition, a 3v3 round of play in the morning, followed by a 5v5 competition in the afternoon, and an award ceremonies throughout the day.
In addition to offering space, Conley has helped mobilize the Pitt community to support the event–especially SHRS students and faculty.
“Our SHRS volunteers will be providing support for this event in many ways,” he says. “We will have some helping with greeting and checking in athletes and coaches. Others will be assisting with the event set up and operations and others will be supporting the athletes during the competition by serving as buddies and cheering the athletes on.” Volunteers will also be acting as first responders to provide first aid to any athletes who may suffer an injury.
After two years of social isolation due to COVID-19, the tournament offers an exciting way for the Special Olympics community to reintegrate into social gatherings.
“Feelings of isolation can be infinitely greater in the Special Olympics community and can have a profound effect on their mental health, cognitive skills and overall wellbeing,” explains Conley. “While it was important to shelter these athletes during the pandemic because they fall into a considerably more vulnerable category, now that restrictions are beginning to be relaxed and lifted, it is incredibly exciting and very important that we enable these athletes to renew those social bonds that they have been kept from over the past two years.”
Conley feels that hosting this event fits perfectly into the school’s mission “to be a catalyst for a world free of barriers,” thanks to the uniquely qualified faculty, staff and students that SHRS empowers.
“We have caring and compassionate people who understand the benefits and importance of participation for all,” he says.
Despite the many challenges of coordinating an event like this on the heels of a pandemic, it’s all worth it for Conley because of one simple thing: “The sheer joy on the faces of the participants.”