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Morehead State Football holds Special Olympics Day

Kennealy Jenkins

Morehead State University hosted an annual sporting event on campus last month that officials said aimed to promote unity and passion among athletes and the community alike.

MSU athletes and Kentucky Special Olympians took the field together on Saturday, September 30 for Special Olympics Day at MSU Football. The event began hours before kickoff - by 10 a.m., on top of normal game day hustle and bustle, organizers and MSU student athletes joined the Special Olympians in the Eagle Center Indoor Fieldhouse.

Kenna Allen Gauche is the Senior Associate Athletic Director and Senior Woman Administrator at MSU. She said the MSU athletes and staff aim to give guests a glimpse of what game day looks like from the inside.

“You know, getting a little bit of an insight into what the practice facility looks like and playing some games and interacting with the athletes, but then they’re getting to go to the football game, they’re getting to watch the pep rally,” Gauche said. “And, of course, their families have been invited to be with them also. So it’s really a family atmosphere for the special needs and Special Olympic athletes.”

Kentucky Special Olympics serves people aged eight and older with intellectual disabilities and cognitive delays. Guests arrived from Rowan and surrounding counties in MSU’s service Region.

Brianna Russo, graduate assistant for Marketing and Promotions, said disabled people in rural regions such as eastern Kentucky have limited opportunities to engage with their communities.

“Getting to invite them to our university and getting them that different atmosphere that they may not have from wherever they are from, the surrounding counties that they are from, definitely has a big impact,” said Russo.

Gauche said the program stand out because it is provided through a relatively small, higher education facility.

“We do have a Division 1 athletics program right here in Morehead, Kentucky, not just down the street in Lexington,” she said. “Our institution, because we’re a regional university and more focused on that eastern Kentucky area, we have the opportunity to get a little more personal and one-on-one with the people that we invite to be a part of our activities, no matter what group it is.”

Multiple sports and activity stations were set up, from corn hole to Kan Jam, where participants played until heading to the tailgate zone for a pep rally.

Alan Carnley is a Special Olympian who has participated in similar events at MSU since 2016. In between rounds of football and bocce ball with MSU athletes, Carnley said he enjoys spending time with the students.

“Seeing, watching the game and seeing and meeting all the people of MSU,” he said. “The football players, and the cheerleaders, and the dance team and possibly the band.”

Carnley, joined by his sister, said the day is a blast every year, and he admires MSU.

“I didn’t go to MSU,” he said. “I went to ACTC, but I would be willing to meet a lot of people at MSU.”

Branden Blankenship is a left-handed pitcher for MSU baseball and a first-time attendee to this event. He said he can already tell the Special Olympics Day holds a lot of value for the guests and his fellow student athletes alike.

“Morehead State, we pride ourselves on community engagement and involvement,” he said. “And it’s a really special thing for us [and] for the special needs community, and being able to interact with them and make their day better, as well as ours.”

The best was saved for last; right before the MSU Eagles took to the field to face the Drake Bulldogs, the Special Olympians joined them at Gate One.

Carnely and others ran the field with the players to celebrate a successful and fun day for everyone involved.

MSU Athletics also plans to host its first Special Olympics Basketball Day this season.