Niagara University will have some students taking one of their final exams early on Saturday. Those taking the Special Olympics: coaching and games management course will be put to the test by hosting Special Olympics New York's Western Region Basketball Tournament.
Since 2006, NU has hosted this annual tournament, which is the final piece in a class offered by the college of education and the college of hospitality and tourism management. Dennis Garland, Ph.D., has taught two sections of this course this semester and has been teaching this specific class since 2015.
Garland's students will receive accreditation for three years of Special Olympics basketball coaching with the completion of the course. The course helps the students learn about the importance of understanding developmental issues, as well as how to work with the athletes in team situations.
The students have also been tasked with planning the event and fundraising for it. The fundraising includes a silent auction with tickets coming in at just $1 each. Garland said that somewhere from 9 to 12 organizations from the Western New York area will be on hand for the festivities.
Garland spoke of what this event stands for and how it impacts more than just the NU community.
"A key tenet of the Niagara University mission is to inspire our students to serve all members of society, especially the poor and marginalized," Garland said.
"We are fortunate to have incredible partners like Special Olympics New York. I am very humbled and proud of all of the Western New York community members who partner with the university. This event is a culmination of a collective effort to provide the athletes with opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with each other and the community."
Garland expects there to be over 200 people in attendance, including many volunteer contributors, first responders and athletes to greet the competitors as they enter the event. North Tonawanda School Board member and city police officer Eric Herbert, a King of the Cage MMA champion, will be as this year's special guest, while three-time Paralympian Adam Page will serve as the opening ceremony's emcee.
The athlete arrival and registration time begins at 9 a.m., with the team and skills competition starting at 10:30 a.m. The tournament is being played at NU's Kiernan Recreation Center.