Students Work Behind the Scenes of a Special Basketball Collaboration

Athletes at the Drexel Recreation Center

In an event organized by LeBow sport business students, Special Olympics athletes and Drexel students played in a Unified Basketball Game at the Drexel Recreation Center on Feb. 13, 2022.

A pickup basketball game might be a typical activity for a Sunday morning on Drexel’s campus. For a game held at the Drexel Recreation Center last month, a bit more went into recruiting the participants.

Undergraduate students enrolled in Sports Event Management (SMT 275) planned and hosted a Unified Basketball Game in conjunction with Special Olympics Pennsylvania’s Philadelphia chapter. Unified Sports are when people with and without intellectual disabilities play together on the same team, and the teams that took the court in February consisted of nine Special Olympics athletes and 12 Drexel students, with Special Olympics staffers serving as coaches.

After a fall 2021 visit from sports commentator JR Jackson to promote collaboration with the Special Olympics, course instructor Sarah Napoli, assistant professor of sport business, had the idea to develop an event with Special Olympics Philadelphia. After conferring with Drexel Athletics and the Drexel Recreation Center, she found a date where a gym was available, and she and the students worked backwards from there.

“I worked to get things in motion before the class started,” she said. “Once we started to meet, it was full steam ahead.”

Napoli divided the 24 undergraduate students into departments: finance, sales, marketing, compliance and internal and external communications, among others. Through the weeks leading up to the unified game, students recruited players, secured sponsorships and promoted a livestream of the event – a critical part of raising awareness, because in-person attendance was not allowed due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Amanda Fields, a senior sport business major, was initially assigned to the marketing department but switched to sales early in the term.

“It was the best decision I could have made because I got a close-up look at sales on a sponsorship level,” she said. “Our department worked really hard to reach out to businesses and make connections.”

Though the initial goal of the course was to raise awareness of the Special Olympics and to cover the cost of the gameday event through sponsorships and support from the Department of Sport Business, the students took on an additional fundraising component. Through online fundraising, $500 went toward the organization’s programming.

The students’ departments shifted for game-day, with roles managing the teams, operating the scoreboard, registering players, checking COVID compliance forms and more.

Fields served as an in-game host and announcer, giving her a courtside view of the players.

“All the players were smiling throughout the whole game, and I’ll never forget when one of the athletes hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to end the game,” she said.

For the Special Olympics athletes who took part, it was the first time that they played indoor basketball in almost two years; many of them have health conditions that make them vulnerable to coronavirus infection, which made following all health and safety policies for the game of utmost importance.

“Giving them that opportunity and the use of our gym made all the difference,” Napoli said. “All of this hard work went into it, and we got to see the results.”

After the game, Napoli and the students received thanks from Michelle Cordell, sports director for the Philadelphia Chapter of Special Olympics Pennsylvania.

“The athletes and coaches had such a great time, and the athletes were all ready to play another game,” she said. “Cheers to you, your class and the Drexel recreation team for making us all feel welcome and putting on such a great experience for our athletes.”

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