The Emory University men's and women's swimming and diving programs have been recognized by The National Association of Division III Athletic Administrators (NADIIIAA) for community service performed during the 2016-17 academic year.
Under the direction of head coach Jon Howell, Emory Swimming and Diving received Honorable Mention status in the Ongoing Project Category for its work with Special Olympics which spans 19 years. The Emory Special Olympic Team, named the Metro Ducks, has developed into a unique and thriving program, with more than 25 active registered athletes competing each season. The program is administered and coached exclusively by volunteers on the Emory Swimming and Diving Teams, with financial support coming from alumni of the program.
Each week, an average of 10-20 student-athletes interact, teach and socialize with Special Olympic athletes. All 70 student-athletes in the program participate with the Special Olympic Team at least once during the academic year. The program begins in September and continues through the Georgia Special Olympic State Games hosted annually at Emory in May. One of the more special aspects of the project is that by interacting with Special Olympics swimmers each week, and year after year, Emory student-athletes are able to forge relationships with the swimmers they coach which allows them the opportunity to make a significant impact on their lives.
Through the program, members of the Emory Swimming and Diving are able to take their love of the sport and apply it to helping the special needs community. According to the National Autism Association, drowning accounts for almost 90 percent of all accidental deaths in special needs adults and children. With this in mind, the objective of the group is to not only encourage swimmers of all ages to learn how to swim but to also improve their swimming ability. By creating a comfortable and supportive environment in the pool, Emory student-athletes encourage Special Olympic swimmers to love the water, love water and be safe.
"Special Olympics has been an important part of the Emory Swimming and Diving community for almost 20 years," Jon Howell said. "It not only offers our student-athletes an opportunity to give back, but it also provides a platform for them to share their love for the sport. Our weekly Special O practices give our students an opportunity to really get to know the people they work with in the program. It gives them a unique perspective, and allows them to form relationships that impact lives beyond just the hour they spend with them in the pool."
The awards program, established in 2001, is sponsored by the NADIIIAA and is intended to recognize the many contributions Division III student-athletes regularly make to their campuses and local communities. Recognition is given for projects in three categories: One Time Projects, An Array of Projects, and Ongoing Projects. The awards will be presented during the NADIIIAA Awards Reception at the NCAA Convention held in Indianapolis, IN on January 20.