Rowan University's Special Olympics to receive big honors

GLASSBORO, N.J. (WPVI) -- Rowan University is in the spotlight for setting the bar for not only championing, but embracing, the true meaning of sports.

They will receive big honors this weekend.

The school is receiving recognition as a national Special Olympics Unified Champion School.

Gary Baker is head of the Unified Program for the University, he says the honor from ESPN and Special Olympics is overwhelming.

"We are the only University that they are coming to visit and so it is a huge honor and it's kind of like a lifetime achievement for all the students, the athletes and the families, the university and for Special Olympics New Jersey," said Baker.

The unified program has been part of campus life for seven years.

The dedication and hard work have paid off and the school is being honored for its efforts to provide inclusive sports and activities for students with and without disabilities.

Students like Kaitlee Francisco are beaming with pride about the positive spotlight.

"Without this program, you wouldn't realize how given and how willing all the students are on campus, so it's really nice to see that a club like Rowan Unified Sports brings college students together early on a Sunday or Saturday morning," she said.

Peter Poole, student-athlete said, "I am so excited. I have been watching ESPN for years and have been growing up with it. It's a very good experience and I am glad they are coming to support all of us."

Rowan is among five schools receiving the accolade. They were selected out of 131 schools. As part of the honor, the University will be given a banner to hang on campus to display their distinguished status of unity.

Leigha Bannon of Special Olympics North America said, "They are really stepping up what it means to be inclusive and it is more than a pat on the back or that tokenism you may see elsewhere but it is really about genuine friendships and about learning from one another and bringing out the best in each other."

Currently, there are about 6,000 schools participating in the Unified Champion Schools Program and by the year 2020, ESPN and the Special Olympics say they want to see that number grow to about 10,000.

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