Second of three parts. See part 1 and part 3.
More than 4,500 Special Olympics athletes, coaches and chaperones are here on the campus of Central Michigan University this week to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Special Olympics Michigan.
Behind the scenes, working untold hours to make the environment positive for all, are hundreds of CMU faculty, staff and student volunteers. And they couldn't be more excited about it.
"During the games, we are the front door to the university." – Stan Shingles
A home for every game
Stan Shingles fell in love with the Special Olympics mission of inclusive, accessible sports in the late 1980s while working as a volunteer alongside his future wife, René, at the Illinois State Summer Games. Over the years, the couple have been a part of more than 25 summer games — even rescheduling their wedding and honeymoon so they could be in town for the 1992 events.
As a member of the games committee and the assistant vice president of University Recreation, Shingles oversees many of the sites used for games in the Student Activity Center, Rose Center and John G. Kulhavi Events Center.
Shingles said watching new athletes enter the SAC for the first time is one of his favorite parts of the weekend. Many do not have access to such training facilities at home and are blown away by the large, bright, well-equipped spaces on campus.
The Student Activity Center pool hosts two days of swimming competitions.
"During the games, we are the front door to the university, and we take that role seriously. This event plays into the university's values of inclusion, integrity and respect," he said.
Shingles noted that the university's commitment to inclusive recreation extends beyond the summer games. CMU was recently named one of only five National Unified Champion Schools, a designation that recognizes efforts to unite students with and without disabilities in sports and social activities.
Hundreds of athletes will compete in individual and doubles bowling events.
The spirit of friendly competition is unique to Special Olympics, Shingles said. Although success is often measured a little differently, it's clear that all athletes are giving their very best effort.
"These individuals are athletes who have worked hard to be here. We want to acknowledge their efforts and treat them as we want to be treated. While they are here, they are part of our community."
Sleeping, eating and celebrating
Cal Seelye, interim director of CMU's auxiliary services, has managed many of the logistics of the games since 1991.
"After the weeks of relative quiet that follow commencement, Special Olympics arrives with a huge burst of positive energy," he said. In addition to the athletes, coaches, chaperones, law enforcement volunteers and even some of the clown volunteers are housed on campus.
To prepare for their arrival, the university brings in additional custodial staff to prepare residence halls. Students and staff in residence halls and residential restaurants meet to discuss ways to best meet the needs of a population many have never worked with before the games.
Many typical activities have to be adapted to accommodate huge numbers and tight schedules, such as mealtimes, when more than 4,500 people need to eat in a one-hour period.
Seelye said that although the event takes a lot of time and energy, it's upbeat and fun for his staff and students. They get to witness the excitement of the athletes, and many are able to form relationships with individuals who remember them and look for them year after year, he said.