Villanova’s student-run Special Olympics Fall Festival was unable to happen last year, but this year’s festivities definitely made up for it. 

As I attended my first Fall Festival this year, I am finally able to understand why it can be recognized as one of the best weekends on campus. Before becoming a student at Villanova, I had heard about the excitement surrounding its student-run Special Olympics and the sense of community it brought to campus, and this weekend confirmed that. 

Months of hard work, planning and community involvement were vital to the success of this weekend’s Fall Festival. After participating in the Fall Festival this year, it was no surprise that the Special Olympics on campus serves to be the largest student run Special Olympics in the world.  The Special Olympics organization serves as a way for individuals with intellectual disabilities to participate in athletic competitions and connect with teammates, volunteers and coaches and serves Villanova’s vital mission of inclusion. 

I felt that this event fulfilled Villanova’s mission and was an inclusive and incredible opportunity for community bonding. 

The University’s participation in Special Olympics dates back to 1979 and has continued ever since then. 

More than 1,000 athletes and 5,000 volunteers participate to make the Fall Festival a meaningful experience for everyone involved. There were many opportunities for athletes to participate in sports such as bocce, long distance running/walking, powerlifting, roller skating, soccer and volleyball. 

Villanova’s student volunteers do an incredible job transforming the campus into an Olympic style venue for the weekend, which makes this one of the best weekends to hang around campus. The quad is transformed into the Olympic Village for the weekend as a place for athletes to dance, spend time together and participate in student-led activities. Along with the quad, there are banners and colorful signs in front of the Oreo and all around campus. 

Many of the University’s student clubs participated in the Olympic Village hosting activities, food booths and games for the athletes. It was amazing to see all of the different student organizations coming together to serve the community in an inclusive manner.  

 Throughout the weekend, the excitement and joy the athletes brought to the table was unreal, and they demonstrated incredible teamwork and camaraderie. 

The energy demonstrated by my fellow student volunteers was also an unmatched and unforgettable sight. Student volunteers were able to come together by collectively celebrating the athletes, and creating an energetic and fun atmosphere for everyone. 

This weekend was a great opportunity to bond with fellow Villanova students over similar passions of service and inclusion. 

Jeanine Aquino, a senior student volunteer on the Special Olympics Committee, reflected on why she believes Fall Festival is one of the best weekends on Villanova’s campus. 

“I couldn’t have asked for a better experience at my last Fall Fest,” Aquino said. “The best part for me was being reunited in person with athletes who we have not seen on our campus in at least two years due to COVID. They bring so much love, light and energy to Fall Fest, and we definitely missed that going virtual last year. In addition, this year I had the honor of leading 116 Local Program Hosts alongside Pat Slattery, Kaitlyn Martchek and Victoria Brus, and watching the LPHs foster such genuine, meaningful connections with the athletes and become part of their county’s family gives me a sense of pride that is indescribable. 

Fall Fest has an unparalleled ability to bring everyone together — from athletes to coaches to Villanova students to off campus visitors — to celebrate pure love, joy and, most importantly, inclusion. 

It truly transforms our campus into the happiest little place on earth. I am extremely proud and grateful to have been a part of the Villanova Special Olympics for my four years here and cannot wait to see all the joy and love it brings for years to come.” 

Participating in the Special Olympics as a student volunteer has definitely been one of my best experiences so far at Villanova, and I am beyond excited to participate next year. As a Villanovan, I take pride in knowing that I was able to participate in such a meaningful and inclusive event, so the 6 a.m. wake up was most definitely worth it.