FSU football players connect with Special Olympians at FSUnified event

Special Olympics at Florida State allows students to volunteer and form relationships with members of the Tallahassee community, particularly those with special needs. Volunteer partners connect with the Olympians through 17 different sports such as flag football, basketball and cheerleading.

 

Earlier this month, members of the Florida State football team volunteered at FSUnified Day, an event centered around spreading inclusion among the University community. Approximately 75 Olympians participated in the event.

 

Defensive back Fentrell Cypress, along with offensive linemen Richie Leonard IV and Andre’ Otto, coached in the event’s kickball tournament. They were tasked with setting the lineups for their teams and supporting the Olympians whenever possible. Alongside the three Seminole football players were many other volunteers who were mostly other FSU students.

 

The goal of the Special Olympics is to promote healthy living, inclusivity and acceptance.

 

“I think playing with the FSU students and now the FAMU students is really great for relationships and friendships, as well as being able to have people to rely on that isn’t just in the sports space,” said Brittany Mueller, a former advisor and now coach for the organization.

 

Richie Leonard IV began his college football career at the University of Florida, starting all twelve games for the Gators and achieving a team-high 755 snaps. The Cocoa, Florida native transferred to Florida State in January and wasted little time getting involved in the Tallahassee Community. Leonard earned bragging rights over his teammates as he and Team Gold would go on to win the entire tournament.

 

It was Leonard’s first time volunteering with Special Olympics, but it was something he wanted to try. 

 

“It’s important to include everyone,” the lineman said, adding “sports can bring people together.” 

 

For the Olympians, most of whom are from the Tallahassee area, it was a great experience to play with members of their local college football team. 

 

“The athletes were very excited to have the FSU football players out there hanging out with them,” Mueller said. “I hope it encourages the football team to stay involved … it’s something special to see and be a part of.”

 

The Seminoles are no strangers to supporting their community.

 

In December, former FSU stars Jordan Travis, Keon Coleman and Trey Benson, as well as current receiver Ja’khi Douglas, helped raise money for Boys’ and Girls’ clubs in Tallahassee.

 

 

Out of the three players who went out and volunteered at FSUnified, Cypress was the longest-tenured Seminole. He joined the team last season after three years at the University of Virginia. The former Cavalier had a solid year with the Garnet and Gold, posting a career-high in tackles.

 

Like Leonard, this was Cypress’ first time volunteering with Special Olympics. When asked what volunteering in the community meant to him, the senior ’Nole said “I feel like it’s important to do community service, and it’s definitely one of my goals this upcoming year to be more involved with things like that.”

 

The defensive back chose to enter his redshirt senior season and stay in Tallahassee despite being draft-eligible. Entering his fifth year of college football, Cypress sees himself as a leader in the Seminoles’ locker room and will look to continue the culture of community service set by his former teammates. 

 

“Being a leader on this team I definitely feel a responsibility in trying to get other players to come and do the same thing.”

 

Cypress also spoke on what he felt he gained from the experience – and what the experience is all about.

 

“Meeting new people and building relationships and understanding that events like that help out and means a lot to us and to them too.” A sentiment shared by Leonard as well; the players seemed to enjoy their time helping out with Special Olympics.

 

Most collegiate athletes are likely keen to understand how much of an impact sports can have on one’s life. In the case of the Fentrell Cypress, Richie Leonard IV and Andre’ Otto, there is little doubt that volunteering with Special Olympics allowed them to help make an impact for the special needs community of Tallahassee.

 

 

Gideon Canice

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