BGSU alumnus and student bring sports to people with special needs
By Donna Greenwald and Amy West
A successful alumnus, a motivated student and a mutual passion to help others are the catalysts behind a new BGSU program that will serve as a prototype for universities throughout the nation.
Alumnus Paul Hooker ’75 and College of Business student Luke Sims have spent the past months working together to create RallyCap Sports, designed to help people with special needs participate in recreational activities.
The concept isn’t new. Hooker and his wife, Margo, created Challenged Youth Sports in New Jersey in 1990 when Hooker, coaching Little League at the time, was inspired by a young girl in a wheelchair watching her brother’s game. Hooker asked her how she was doing, and, upset that she couldn’t participate, she candidly answered, “This stinks!”
Those two words were all the motivation needed by the Hookers to form Challenged Youth Sports. After 25 years of success in the New Jersey area, Hooker wanted to do more. He wanted to expand the organization across the nation.
He contacted College of Business Dean Ray Braun, who connected him with Luke Sims, a senior specializing in marketing and entrepreneurship. Sims interned with Hooker over the summer and developed an expansion plan, which includes using universities as the vehicle to roll the program out nationally.
Equipped with a solid plan and a new name for the program, Hooker and Sims chose Bowling Green State University as the first site to launch RallyCap Sports. Athletic teams are often defined by their ability to come together to achieve a goal. The “rally cap” has become a symbol used in a variety of sports to express that powerful camaraderie, which is also the mission of this organization devoted to changing the lives of people with special needs.
Sims met weekly with Braun and Kirk Kern, director of the Dallas-Hamilton Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership, to plan bringing RallyCap Sports to BGSU, which will serve as a prototype as the program expands.
The kickoff was held in the BGSU Perry Field House on Oct. 19, and smiles were endless. The participants, the parents, the volunteers and, of course, Hooker and Sims were ecstatic about the support and success of the launch.
More than 80 volunteers assisted with the event, which included participants from throughout northwest Ohio and even Michigan. Volunteers included community members, BGSU athletes, members of fraternities and sororities, and College of Business students, faculty and staff.
“I am so excited by this program. There is nothing like this it in the area,” said Emilie Mullins of Michigan, whose daughter participated in the kickoff.
Each participant was paired up with a volunteer “buddy” for one-on-one interaction to foster an environment for positive reinforcement and inclusion.
Mariana Mitova, faculty adviser to Sims, had tears in her eyes as her son, Alex, who is legally blind, participated in golf, football and soccer. “This is the most energizing thing I have been a part of in a long time,” she said. “Working with Luke has been very meaningful and very rewarding.”
One of the young participants hitting golf balls yelled to his parents with a contagious smile, “This is fun! I’m really good!”
Sims differentiates RallyCap Sports from Special Olympics. “It is less about achieving sports accolades and more about having fun and being included,” he said. “It is a recreational league where participants have one-on-one interaction with a volunteer and connect with others.
“After working on this project, I have become passionate about helping people with special needs. Our society is so consumed with creating for-profit businesses, but there is room for social entrepreneurship, too. I have developed a passion for this population, and it has been great to work with Paul, the dean, professors and coaches to make this organization a success at BGSU. Our hope is to create a thriving program that we will duplicate at universities throughout the nation.”
Participants had the opportunity to sign up for a four-week soccer session in November where they will not only get to play soccer but will also meet the BGSU soccer team, enjoy watching one of the team’s matches, and play under the lights at Mickey Cochrane Soccer Stadium.
In the spring, the BGSU RallyCap Sports program will feature a new sport, along with unique and fun activities for everyone involved.
Sims admits that before being approached about this opportunity, he wasn’t sure what direction his career would take. “Paul Hooker provided me a great opportunity to be passionate about something that truly makes a difference in people’s lives. It has been life changing for me.”