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Athletes of the Field: SUNYAC SAAC makes positive difference for Syracuse Special Olympic Athletes

Athletes of the Field: SUNYAC SAAC makes positive difference for Syracuse Special Olympic Athletes
SYRACUSE, N.Y. - Student-athletes within the State University of New York Athletic Conference (SUNYAC) Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) are finding that an afternoon spent playing a friendly game of soccer can lead to a lifetime of positive memories for Special Olympic Athletes in Syracuse.
 
The SUNYAC SAAC is a committee made up of student-athletes assembled to provide insight on the student-athlete experience. The SAAC also offers input on the rules, regulations and policies that affect student-athletes' lives on NCAA member institution campuses. 
 
Last Sunday, SAAC members and Special Olympians with the Syracuse chapter hit the soccer field for some fun competition. But behind the goals and fast-paced action, long-lasting memories were being made. "It's building relationships. Good friendships start here, we became really good friends with a lot of them last year and hope to see them back," SAAC Executive Board President Matt Norris explained. Norris, a senior at Cortland, said spending time with the athletes is nothing new to the SUNYAC SAAC. "It was a huge success last year, so we wanted to do it again," he shared.
 
Oswego senior Natalie Horton, who serves as the Executive Board's Vice President of Community Engagement, helped coordinate this year's time spent with the Special Olympics athletes. "I've been looking forward to this since we planned it last year at the March spring retreat," Horton said. "I'm just excited to work with different athletes that I'm not used to working with."
 
As it turns out, the Special Olympic Athletes were pretty excited, too. "I like it, I like it a lot," Special Olympian Dara Putnam said. 
 
"I was a little nervous, because I didn't know what to expect," Special Olympian Lindsay Mitchell shared. "But I got to meet them. They're pretty cool."
 
"They gave me high fives, then said 'Good Job', it's really fun," Special Olympian Ali Camardla added.
 
For some of the Special Olympians, playing soccer was a learning moment. But when the soccer match changed into a game of bocce, it turned out they were able to give a quick teaching lesson to the SAAC student-athletes. "My favorite thing is when they're teaching us how to play bocce," Norris shared.
 
But ultimately, it's the lessons behind the sports that Norris and other SAAC members say are what really mattered the most - building relationships with the Special Olympic athletes, and making a positive difference. "It gives you some really good perspective, and it's just awesome seeing them have such huge smiles when we're helping them out," Norris explained.
 
"Seeing the smile on their face. That's probably the best thing you could experience from this," Horton added. "You can learn stuff on the field, but you can learn life lessons off the field that are definitely going to take you farther in life than just on the field."
 
"They're really nice to me," Putnam said. "And I love it."
 
An afternoon of some friendly competition leading to lessons learned, friendships made, and memories lasting a lifetime.
 
You can watch the SUNYAC SAAC playing soccer and bocce with the Special Olympians by clicking on the video below.
 
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