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Special Spirit Comes to Campus

Players With Disabilities Get College Athlete Experience

Special Spirit image courtesy of Keith Tharp
Student leader Todd Borchers, front left, will bring his Pinkerton Astros to Costello Gym for Special Spirit 2012.

By Julia Gavin

Every athlete wants to play in front of a cheering crowd of friends, family members and fans. Todd Borchers is making that happen for a deserving group of young athletes at the Special Spirit basketball game on March 29 in Costello Gym.

Borchers, a senior management and marketing student and assistant resident director, has been coaching a basketball team from his high school, Pinkerton Academy in Derry, N.H., for several years. But the players on the Pinkerton Astros are not just athletes, they are Special Olympians.

“I’ve been involved with Special Olympics in New Hampshire for several years and our team has won seven gold medals at the state level,” says Borchers, who began volunteering after seeing a childhood friend struggle with disabilities at school. “But these athletes deserve the proper recognition for their efforts and should be able to perform for crowds as other athletic teams do.”

The teams usually play in small gymnasiums that only fit a handful of spectators, not allowing them the full gameday experience.

“These athletes deserve the best, and they might be getting the equality of an opportunity to play the game, but they deserve to fill a gymnasium and have the full experience of the sport,” says Borchers, noting that Special Spirit illustrates the University’s goal of being an inclusive campus.

To provide that experience, Borchers brought his team and another in its division to Costello Gym last year and gave them a night in the spotlight. While the game was certainly a success, Borchers wants to go “bigger and better” this year.

“Special Spirit will provide these athletes with a well-organized ‘college-like’ environment to play their sport in,” he says. “They’ll be greeted with attractive posters and decorations for the game, have an announcer do player introductions, special jerseys, cheerleaders, mascots, an exciting halftime show and most importantly a packed gymnasium of fans just for them.”

To build the halftime show and increase student attendance, Borchers has been working with several student groups and the Office of Residence Life, which is sponsoring the event. He has scheduled singers, the UNITY Step Squad and several UMass Lowell athletes to attend the game and cheer on both teams, the Astros and the Londonderry Special Forces.

Special Spirit will take place at Costello Gym at 261 Riverside St., which is located on North Campus next to the Riverview parking lot. The event will run from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. and is free and open to the public, although donations to Special Olympics will be accepted. For more information, contact Todd Borchers or visit the event's Facebook page. For pictures from last year's game, visit Keith Tharp's website.