The College’s Unified Team won the Shriver Cup soccer tournament on Sunday, Oct. 30, at Mercer County Park in Hamilton, N.J.
The athletic team comprises students with intellectual disabilities who play soccer in the fall semester and basketball in the spring.
Samuel Serrato, a sophomore Spanish and special education double major, has been involved in the Unified Team since his freshman year. Serrato attributes his dedication to helping those with disabilities to his cousin Michael, who has autism. His brother participated in a similar program when he was younger, but played tennis.
The College’s Unified Team is associated with the Special Olympics of New Jersey and has close relations with the Best Buddies and Career and Community Studies programs on campus.
Kathleen McIlraith, president of the Unified Team and a senior sociology major, coached her players throughout the season.
“(One thing I took from all of this) is just the community of Special Olympics, the culture and the philosophies they value,” McIlrath said. “(I learned) just how much of a community it is and how much they support each other.”
Although McIlrath told her players that the goal of participating in the Shriver Cup tournament was not to win but to have fun, the College’s Unified team came out on top.
The College’s Unified Team played in the Division II bracket with Rider University and Kean University. During the tournament, the Unified Team tied Rider at 3 and Kean at 1, and were forced into overtime.
To determine a winner, five players from each team were asked to kick penalty goals. The College’s Unified team won against both Rider University and Kean and was declared the winner of the tournament.
“It was so adrenaline rushing,” McIlraith said. “I think we won because we have a strong team, (especially our defensive presence) and we’re dedicated to the game because it’s fun.”
Junior career and community studies major Ryan McElroy said he was excited about their win because he had never won first place before.
McIlrath said seeing McElroy and the other Unifed Team members smiling after giving it their all on the field was her greatest pleasure.
“(That) is my main focus,” McIlrath said. “I love each and everyone on the Unified Team. Some of the greatest people I know are the people I call family — my team.”
[ORIGINALLY POSTED IN THE SIGNAL ON NOVEMBER 14, 2016.]