The first day of preschool is full of crying, screaming and holding on to your parents until your teacher pulls you away. Emily Orr was one of these children with tears in her eyes, begging her mom not to make her go. But rather than wanting to go back to her familiar and comfortable home, Orr simply wanted to leave the regular daycare and go to the Special Needs program where her mom worked. Orr admitted, “I would say, ‘Mom, they’re so much nicer. I want to be with your kids.’”
Since a young age, Orr has loved being around special needs people and last year, she decided to combine this passion with her commitment to athletics. After speaking with Dr. Joseph Dennin, a Fairfield University professor of mathematics and father of a Special Olympics athlete, Orr was inspired to create an event on campus. On Saturday, Dec. 1, the second annual Special Olympics Dodgeball event took place in the Fairfield University RecPlex.
Fairfield University student-athletes and Special Olympics athletes teamed up to play games of kickball and dodgeball. After last year’s success, Special teams were calling Orr in September to make sure the event was still taking place. Because the University suffered a norovirus earlier that week, there was a smaller turnout of Special athletes than anticipated. There were, however, a greater variety of teams represented from Fairfield.
Though it is only the second year that the event has occurred, Orr began planning it three years ago. “I tried to start it my sophomore year, but the planning wasn’t right,” explained Orr. With the help of both Dennin and Senior Associate Athletic Director Alison Sexton, Orr was finally able to implement the program her junior year.
“It’s great when you have student-athletes who contribute on the field, do good things as far as being involved in the community and on campus, and then find a way to be a part of the program, even when they’re not playing,” commented Sexton. “I think that sums up Emily.”
While this is her first official involvement with Special Olympics, Orr hopes to continue this type of work. “It’s something that I really wished I was involved in more,” she explained. “It’s tough when you’re playing a sport in school…but it’s something that I really see myself doing after school.”
Orr has incorporated her understanding of a special needs lifestyle into her future career path. Currently, she is earning her certification in elementary education and will begin her work in the Master’s program for special education next fall. She enjoys working with the adults because she is able to form a relationship with them; however, Orr explained that she is willing to work with any age of special needs.
Howie Rosas ’14 stated, “Emily’s interest in elementary education made her the perfect candidate for the job. She’s well-organized and genuinely cared about making sure the special athletes and student-athletes would have a great time.”
Despite all the hard work that Orr put into creating the event, she attributes her work ethic to the ideals her parents have instilled in her since a young age. “I’m very much my parents’ daughter,” commented Orr. “It’s the kind of thing they would do.”
Combining Special athletes with Fairfield athletes allowed both parties to learn from each other and gain a unique lesson from the day. “I learned that it does not take a lot to make someone’s day or week,” stated Juli Bassett ’14. “We were only there for about an hour when the special athletes were already talking about how they could not wait for next year.”
Orr added, “We really take it for granted. We complain about our sports all the time, but we’re so lucky to have our 15 best friends to play our favorite sport with every single day of our lives.”
The Special Olympics dodgeball event encouraged those involved to reevaluate what’s important in life. “My mom used to tell me, when she taught special needs, that you never see God’s eyes more than through special people,” Orr reflected. “That’s what it’s about, and that really was true. That’s how we’re supposed to live.”