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Covert-Miller leads award-winning Special Olympics collaboration

Laura Covert-Miller talks about the Special Olympics in the Student Recreation Center on Nov. 29. Covert-Miller is being honored by the Special Olympics. Alyssa Tyler

Laura Covert-Miller, university professor of health, human performance, and recreation, recently led Pittsburg State University to receive the 2021 Southeast Kansas Organization of the Year award from Special Olympics Kansas. Special Olympics Kansas and PSU have held a partnership for over 41 years.

The ceremony took place on Tuesday, Nov. 16 in the PSU Student Recreation Center. The award was presented by John Lair, CEO of Special Olympics Kansas, and Erin Fletcher, the director of grants and diversity for Special Olympics Kansas.

“Special Olympics Kansas presented me with an award for Organization of the Year in Southeast Kansas,” Covert-Miller said. “This is an award that is presented to (the organization) the (Special Olympics Kansas) feels has been of service to, not only their organization, but to individuals with intellectual disabilities as a whole.”

Covert-Miller has incorporated several different collaborations with organizations into her coursework for her classes.

“In my classes we collaborate with organizations such as New Hope Services,” Covert-Miller said. “In the past we’ve also collaborated with Mosaic in the research projects that we’ve completed in the past. We’re currently collaborating with Special Olympics Kansas, and we’ve also collaborated with Parsons State Hospital. We’ve collaborated with these organizations in both research and class projects.

Libby Van Rheen, graduate assistant in health, human performance, and recreation, has been involved with Special Olympics Kansas since her time as one of Covert-Miller’s student research assistants.

“In classes we collaborate with individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities where the students are responsible for creating and implementing their own therapeutic-based activities with these different groups,” Covert-Miller said. “With (our research projects), Libby came in last year as a senior, and she was a student research assistant her senior year on the research project that we implemented last year. Now Libby is my graduate assistant, and she is helping with this (current) research project in collaboration with Special Olympics Kansas as well as Special Olympics North America.”

The current collaboration with Special Olympics Kansas centers around evaluating athletes at various points during their practices.

“We’re working with Special Olympics Kansas right now to do some fitness evaluations,” Van Rheen said. “We have a bunch of different groups all around the area that we’re working with. We’re doing three different time points of data collection so that each time (the groups) will perform the fitness evaluations and we can see their progress each time. We have a couple different groups. One of them is a group of athletes that are going to the USA Games for Special Olympics, and so they’ll be doing their normal practices and programming and everything, and then we can kind of see their progress along with their practices whenever we get their data back.”

According to Covert-Miller, the relationship between Special Olympics Kansas has been growing stronger in recent years.

“The relationship (between PSU and Special Olympics Kansas) has really strengthened within the last five years,” Covert-Miller said. “In the last five years, my therapeutic recreation students were charged with creating events for individuals with disabilities in this area, and so they created what’s called ‘TR-ffic Field Day,’ which stands for ‘therapeutic recreation field day,’ and through this event we have been able to reach out to a lot of organizations and schools in providing an event for individuals with disabilities, and through this event we’ve been able to collaborate with Special Olympics.”

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