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VOLeaders Launch Sports Fest for Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities

Group photo of student-athletes, volunteers, and participants at the first UT Sports Fest, an adaptive sports clinic at the university

This April, the Center for Sport, Peace, & Society participated in one of most special and impactful events of 2017: the groundbreaking inaugural UT Sports Fest, an inclusive sports festival led by the center and organized by the student-athletes in the VOLeaders Academy.

This is the second year the center has worked with the VOLeaders, a program we lead in partnership with UT Athletics and the Center for Leadership and Service. In our sport and leadership class this spring, directors Sarah Hillyer, Ph.D., and Ashleigh Huffman, Ph.D., challenged the 16 student-athletes to create an event that tackles a social issue and highlights the power of sport to members of our community. The social issue they chose to address was accessibility and inclusion of persons with disabilities on campus.

Throughout the year, we exposed them to new activities such as sitting volleyball, beep kickball, and tandem cycling—sports adapted to be inclusive of all ability levels. With the support of 75 volunteers, and partnerships with the UT Future program, Club Vibes, and the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes, our VOLeaders welcomed 155 members of our community to participate in the fun. We were even fortunate to hear from U.S. Paralympian Liz Baker, a fourth-place finisher in women’s triathlon at Rio 2016, who came out to speak with Sports Fest attendees about her experience as a visually-impaired elite-level athlete.

The 16 student-athletes in VOLeaders represent 13 university sports teams—football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball, men’s golf, women’s golf, soccer, volleyball, softball, rowing, men’s tennis, women’s tennis, men’s swimming, and women’s swimming. In July, they will complete their time in the academy with a service-learning study abroad trip in Vietnam, where they will support GSMP alumna Nga Le‘s work to empower Vietnamese women and youth through sports. 

The VOLeaders Academy is a partnership between UT’s Center for Sport, Peace, and Society, Center for Leadership and Service, and Athletics Department. Student-athletes involved in the program will complete their one-year experience with a sports-based service-learning trip to Vietnam in July 2017.

To follow the VOLeaders Academy on social media, use the hashtags #VOLeaders and #Sport4All on Facebook and Twitter.