Rowan students slam dunk new Unified Sports Club with Special Olympics athletes

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When Rowan University’s assistant director for sport clubs, Gary Baker, first spoke with Special Olympics New Jersey (SONJ) officials earlier this year, he hoped for some student interest in their proposed joint sports league. Little did he know how popular this idea would become.  

When Rowan University's assistant director for sport clubs, Gary Baker, first spoke with Special Olympics New Jersey (SONJ) officials earlier this year, he hoped for some student interest in their proposed joint sports league. Little did he know how popular this idea would become.

SONJ asked Baker to create a club - later called Unified Sports Club - for Rowan students to play team sports alongside Special Olympic athletes. Rowan became the first institution in New Jersey to create a program of this nature and the first officially in college club programs in the nation, according to SONJ.

The club started in February when 60 Rowan students played alongside 28 SONJ athletes in a five-on-five, eight-team basketball league. Rowan students served as players, coaches, referees, scorekeepers and clock operators and the skill level - for both SONJ athletes and Rowan students alike - ranged from basketball newcomers to Rowan's varsity basketball forward Tom Paterno.

"I was thrilled with the number of students who joined the program," Baker said. "I couldn't be more proud of the their dedication and passion. We're already organizing soccer for the fall."

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Video: 2012 Rowan Unified Sports basketball league - http://youtu.be/jnohrD6Zg68.

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SONJ classifies a Special Olympics athlete as anyone with an intellectual disability. There are more than 24,000 registered Special Olympics athletes in New Jersey. SONJ covers all costs for all athletes, including training, accommodations, food and uniforms.

Unified Sports will begin a soccer league in the fall with plans to coordinate other team-based sports, such as flag football, volleyball, swim relays or softball in the future.

To learn more about Rowan's Unified Sports club, visit its blog at http://www.rowanunified.blogspot.com/. To participate in Unified Sports, please contact Gary Baker at bakerga@rowan.edu or 856-256-4908.

To volunteer for Special Olympics New Jersey, visit the SONJ website at www.sonj.org/Volunteer.

About Special Olympics New Jersey
Special Olympics New Jersey provides year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community. For more information on Special Olympics New Jersey, visit www.sonj.org or call 609-896-8000.

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