FAYETTEVILLE – Razorback student-athletes celebrated National Student-Athlete Day by participating in Unified Games, a partnership with Special Olympics Arkansas, on Sunday afternoon inside Walker Pavilion. The event began with both flag football and volleyball and ended with a dinner. Associate Athletic Director for Student-Athlete Services Eric Wood spoke about the event and the decision to hold Unified Games on National Student-Athlete Day.
"Usually on National Student-Athlete Day, the athletic department does something to honor our student-athletes," Wood said. "Our student-athletes turned it back on us and said, ‘On National Student-Athlete Day we’d rather serve.’ That right there talks about what it takes to be a student-athlete and the character that all of them have. On a day that we should be honoring them, they’ve chosen to serve.”
Arkansas’ student-athletes worked with Special Olympics Arkansas athletes in teams. The teams practiced flag football and volleyball and then held competition between opening and closing ceremonies. The event ended with a dinner for all student-athletes and participants, coupled with additional activities in Walker Pavilion.
Freshman soccer student-athleteKayla Peterson helped in executing the event. She spoke about the leadership opporunity that the activities provided for Arkansas student-athletes.
“The Unified Games are a mix of the Razorback student-athletes pairing with the Special Olympics athletes, so we’re playing both with them and against them,” Peterson said. “It’s a great way for everybody to feel involved and to grow in our leadership and athletic abilities, to challenge everybody. It’s really important to me because it’s allowing us to grow and to get out into the community and really make an impact.”
For Wood, the growth in leadership and the opportunity to serve others align with the Razorback Leadership program.
“This is an opportunity for them to apply what they’ve been learning all year,” Wood said. “It’s specifically aimed at our Rookie Razorback program, which is our freshmen. As they’ve been learning each month that we’ve been in school about different leadership methods and approaches, now they’ve got a chance to partner with Special Olympics and apply the things they’ve been learning.”
For Peterson, the takeaway of working with Special Olympics Arkansas is much more than just a celebration of being a student-athlete.
“It’s a celebration of all of us, really,” Peterson said. “It’s exciting to share this experience and this day and dinner with them as well. I think it’s important for them. It’s awesome for us to get involved and to help them, but they’re also helping us and teaching us a lot about sports and about leadership and what it means to be a good player and teammate.”