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Western Carolina Student-Athletes Support Special Olympics

Sept. 12, 2005

Cullowhee, N.C. - They train. They condition. And then, they bowl. On Saturday, Sept. 10, over 100 Special Olympians convened on Thunder Lanes in Sylva to participate in the qualifier for the Special Olympics Bowling State Games.

Fifty Western Carolina University student-athletes representing six teams, as well as two coaches, volunteered their time to help make these games possible. The Catamounts served as scorekeepers, encouragers, and friends for these amazing Special Olympians. Volunteers represented Lady Catamount basketball, track & field, men and women's golf, cheerleading, and athletic training.

The bowlers completed three games competing as individuals, doubles, and teams. The participants came from Jackson, Haywood, Buncombe, Transylvania, and other surrounding counties in Western North Carolina.

"The energy that radiated off the athletes lifted all spirits, and it inspired all of us," said junior women's golfer Bianca Melone, who also serves as the community service coordinator for Western's Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC)

The bowlers also enjoyed a special visit from Western's very own mascot, "Paws" the Catamount.

"Paws was a big hit with the Special Olympians; they had fun dancing with, hugging, slapping high-fives, and taking pictures with him," said Ashley Hovda, President of the SAAC.

The Catamount student-athletes volunteered a total of one hundred forty-six (146) hours in their first major community service project of the semester. The atmosphere inside the bowling alley was inspiring. The student-athletes had the time of their lives interacting with their Special Olympic athlete counterparts.

Erika Danford, Vice-President of the Student-Athlete Advisory Council took a moment to reflect; "We're all athletes who train and work hard to be able to compete in our respective sports. It's so incredible to be able to relate to these amazing individuals on such a similar level. The entire day was uplifting for both the Special Olympians and the Catamount athletes."

The Student-Athlete Advisory Council is in the process of planning more community service events for the upcoming year. Currently, a reading program at various Jackson County schools is in the works, as are highway clean-ups, peer mentoring, and Operation Christmas Child for the holiday season.

This year, the student-athletes have adopted Cancer Awareness as their primary focus. They will be participating in Relay for Life, and various other fundraisers to raise money for the fight against cancer. Kent Briggs, Western's head football coach, was diagnosed with cancer this past spring, and the athletes are compassionate to this cause that hits close to home.

Melone applauds her fellow student-athletes and looks to the future.

She concluded, "It was exciting to see all of the participants in our first organized outreach event of the season. For the many more to come, I hope to see as great a response and enthusiasm from our athletes here at Western."

For more information on Special Olympics, please visit these links:

Special Olympics - National Site

Special Olympics - North Carolina Site