The Fall Festival is hosted and organized by Villanova University students and is the largest annual student-run Special Olympics event in the world. For one weekend each year, Villanova University opens its campus up to over 1,000 athletes, 400 coaches, and 2,000 volunteers from the Villanova Student Body, surrounding community, and corporations. The athletes who participate in the Fall Festival compete in a total of six Olympic-type sports including bocce, long distance running, power-lifting, roller skating, soccer and volleyball. However, sporting events are just a small component of the overall weekend. Villanova’s campus is transformed into an athlete’s wonderland, incorporating Opening Ceremonies; a parade; Healthy Athlete screenings; an Olympic Town offering face painting, food and fun; a Victory Dance; and Closing Ceremonies. There is no charge to participate in the Fall Festival or in any other Special Olympics event. All housing and meals for the weekend are provided by Villanova University and Special Olympics Pennsylvania.
The event requires 2,000 volunteers from the Villanova University student body, corporate organizations and the surrounding community.
Spectators are encouraged to visit any of the competition venues on or near campus and cheer on athletes at Special Olympics Pennsylvania’s second largest event of the year.
Special Olympics Pennsylvania’s (SOPA) Fall Festival returned to Villanova University for the 27th consecutive year from November 6-8, 2015 and welcomed approximately 1,600 coaches, athletes and Unified Partners representing 39 Pennsylvania local Programs. Participants competed in bocce, long distance running/walking, powerlifting, roller skating, soccer (5v5, 7v7, 11v11), and volleyball.
Villanova’s campus was transformed according to an underwater theme and featured Opening Ceremonies with live entertainment including Villanova Basketball Coach Jay Wright. In addition, the weekend featured Healthy Athletes® programs, an “Olympic Town”festival offering athlete activities in-between sporting events, a Victory Dance and Closing Ceremonies.
The official kick-off of Fall Festival occurred on Friday, Nov. 6th at 7:30 p.m. with Opening Ceremonies held in The Pavilion at Villanova. The Opening was emceed by SOPA Global Messengers, Jordan Schubert and Ernie Roundtree, and concluded with the lighting of the Olympic Torch to signify the official start of the Games. The Olympic Torch was carried by participants of the fifth annual Fall Festival Torch Run. The Torch Run is a 13 mile non-competitive run consisting of 5 legs from the legendary Philadelphia Art Museum to Villanova University. Hundreds of runners representing law enforcement officers/teams from across the Philadelphia region participated to kickoff Fall Festival’s 27th Anniversary.
Several Healthy Athlete activities were also be available to Fall Festival participants in a variety of ways this year that included free health screenings and education in the form of eye, ear, dental and podiatry assessments; a Healthy Habits Fairwith fun games, interactive activities, and healthy snacks; Active Athletes & Athlete Stretchingwith free group exercise classes and stretching led by trained volunteers; and Healthy Young Athletes for children with intellectual disabilities aged 2-7 years old.
The 2015 Fall Festival major event sponsors include Premier State-wide partner - Sheetz; Presenting Sponsor TD Bank; W.W. Grainger; Sam’s Club; Wawa; Huntington Bank; Aerotek; Gilbane Contstruction; Kessler Topaz Meltzer & Check; the David and Marjorie D. Rosenberg Foundation; Harmelin Media; Philadelphia Insurance Companies; KPMG; Children’s Hospital Of Philadelphia; Connelly Foundation; Villanova University; The Delaware County Times; Law Enforcement Torch Run; and WXVU.
Pictured from left to right: Monroe County athlete Ernie Roundtree, Award of Valor recipients Vanena Lohuis from Adams County and Derek Eshenour from Area M, and SOPA President and CEO Matt Aaron.
The Philadelphia Insurance Award of Valor is given to an athlete whose effort, determination, and sportsmanship are award-winning and inspirational. He or she shows determination and courage in the face of adversity and an ability to overcome obstacles. Two extremely worthy candidates made it impossible to choose just one this year. The award recipients were Derek Eshenour from Area M and Vanena Lohuis from Adams County.
Derek Eshenour – Area M (Long Distance Running)
Derek demonstrated courage in participating at Fall Festival this year after experiencing a very serious medical event last year. He had a severe choking incident that led to his hospitalization.
Derek has competed in various fall sports during the past 25 years and has never missed a Fall Festival. His determination and strength to overcome his fears and anxiety to compete at Villanova this year with his teammates served as an inspiration to all.
Derek always cheers and encourages his fellow athletes during competitions. He wanted everyone to see that he is better. His enthusiasm to compete and do his best is always his personal goal.
Vanena Lohuis – Adams County (Roller Skating)
Vanena has progressed from using a skate mate four years to competing in four events this year. She always pushes herself to do her best and challenged herself to compete in the 100m event in her 2nd and 3rd year of skating. Vanena has a great sense of humor and enjoys cheering and encouraging her teammates.
This year Vanena demonstrated courage when she agreed to room with a fellow athlete that was left without a roommate. Although Vanena usually insists on rooming with her parents during state events, she agreed to stay with her teammate to alleviate their anxiety.