BY PAM SEGURA
Music and motion permeated through Draddy Gymnasium last Saturday, when the Department of Kinesiology and Phi Epsilon Kappa, the national professional fraternity for physical education, hosted Manhattan College’s 35th Annual College Games.
The College Games, which were founded in 1969 by the school’s former kinesiology professor Dr. J. Carl Bennett, provides psychomotor-based games for children and adults with mental and physical disabilities. The event typically features two hours of games, which are run by students, faculty members and volunteers from organizations in Yonkers, Riverdale and other neighborhoods in the Bronx.
“A lot of times [people with disabilities] don’t get the necessary treatment that they need to get up and move,” Armando Rodriguez, a senior exercise science major, said. “That does so much for them in so many ways. The stimulation of moving something, the tactile feeling [of sports equipment] does so much.
At last Saturday’s games, the five courts at Draddy were dotted with ribbons, plastic bowling balls and pins, different-sized volleyballs and one trampoline. The athletes and volunteers danced and played air guitar to songs like Bon Jovi’s “Living On a Prayer” and Jason Aldean’s “She’s Country.”
These actions underscored Dr. Tedd M. Keating’s words during the games’ opening ceremony.
Keating, who is an associate professor of kinesiology, reminded the athletes and volunteers to “go for it,” referencing founder Bennett’s rhetoric and philosophies. The opening of the Games mirrored the traditions in the Olympics. Members of Manhattan’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) performed traditional flag ceremonies and led the opening lap around the gym. Senior English and psychology major Katelyn Conner sang the national anthem.
Volunteers included ROTC members and students from the softball, baseball, soccer and volleyball teams.
The personalities and enthusiasm of athletes and their respective agencies, of course, structured the most important aspect of the events.
The athletes came from organizations in the Riverdale area and Yonkers, including: the Advocates for Services for the Blind and Multi-Handicapped and the Community Resource Center, both of which are in Riverdale, the Kingsbridge Community Center in Kingsbridge Heights, the Park, Recreation and Conservation Department of Yonkers, and Jacobi Hospital, which is located in the Morris Park section of the Bronx.
The music and motion, rhythm and recreation at the games extended these athletes’ behavioral, motor and cognitive therapies.
“[These activities] are probably the most adaptable activities. We can edit them and change them to fit the needs of the [athletes],” Armando continued. “If you notice with basketball, we have hoops at different heights. Dancing around and the parachutes are easily adaptable [too] and [the athletes] can get into it.”
According to Sport and Development, an online platform that explores the complex relationships between sports and physical and mental development, sports improve the levels of self-awareness, well-being and mood and overall quality of life in people with disabilities .At MC, students stumble upon their own ways to affect the sport-development complex.
Rodriguez, who is the Sargent at Arms for the ROTC, is a member of Phi Epsilon Kappa Fraternity. He joined the ROTC as a sophomore. He connected the professional fraternity and the ROTC through the latter’s Silver Wings Society, which aids ROTC members and provides them with volunteer opportunities. The ROTC has now led the Games’ opening ceremony for two years.
Like other volunteers at the games, Rodriguez is touched by these games. This break, he went on a L.O.V.E. trip to Jamaica. Some of his fellow volunteers—which include students P.J. Sweeney and Rachel McGraw—were with him on Saturday, handling the parachutes. During that activity, the athletes and volunteers unfolded a large, multi-colored parachute like a blanket. When it was tossed high enough, people snuck underneath the parachute and danced their way out from below. The athletes and volunteers giggled during the activity, using the music—which ranged from Rihanna hits to Rolling Stones classics—to guide the groove.
“We were blessed. I was able to interact with young children [who] were either autistic, had [chromosomal disorders], or were severely handicapped,” Rodriguez said. “They touched us in ways we can’t even explain.”
Many higher institutions either provide special games or are connected to larger organizations that fund sports events for the disabled. At California State University, the kinesiology department uses outdoor activities to embody their longstanding oath: “Let me win…Let me be brave in the attempt.” Other colleges and universities—including Harvard, Boston, UCLA and Notre Dame—provide spaces for organizations like the Special Olympics, a collective that advocates the benefits of sports in the lives and therapies of disabled youths and adults.
The relationship between schools and service centers for the intellectually and physically disabled is a “sound and efficient program model,” according to a 2005 study conducted by the Special Olympics. About 52 percent of adults with intellectual disabilities, moreover, are employed. Half of these individuals are employed in competitive jobs, which are typically centered on sports and recreational activities. The Gallup Organization financially supported the study, which was conducted in both the University of Massachusetts and the University of Utah.
And the College Games at MC, which thrives off smaller, more personalized connections, also reflects the connections between school and community.
Doug Montazella, a junior chemical engineering major, represented the Silver Wings Society at the event.
“Our goal is to promote strong leaders in community societies,” Montazella said.
Kelly Douglas, a junior business management major, came along with the Silver Wings Society. Victor Francisco, who is affiliated with the Community Resource Center in Riverdale, works with eight autistic men, some of who played volleyball at Draddy.
“They come here, they have fun, and it changes their routine,” Francisco said, in between setting and
bumping a beach wall with his athletes.
Others student volunteers came without any direct affiliation with a group on or off campus. Lindsay Holms, a junior broadcasting major, was “just helping out” while Maggie Malone, a freshman accounting major, really “enjoy[s]” volunteering.
During award ceremonies, which ended the event, athletes, volunteers and organization representatives gathered in front of the southern bleachers at Draddy. Volunteers draped medals over the necks of athletes and Franklin Ramos, an ROTC member, performed an impressive, solo rifle spin.
“There are others that struggle worse than me,” Ramos reflected before the final ceremony. “It really puts things into perspective.”