Together We Rally

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.”

Program under way with event at BGSU - THE TOLEDO BLADE


BOWLING GREEN — Alex Mitova insisted on doing the work himself.

Guided by voices, he picked up a tennis ball and put it on top of a rubber tee. He stood, adjusted his stance, and swung. The tennis ball bounced off his golf club and sailed.

Alex, 13, is legally blind. He was one of about 100 children who participated in various athletic games at Bowling Green State University’s Charles E. Perry Field House on Sunday afternoon for the kickoff of RallyCap Sports.

PHOTO GALLERY: Click here to view photos

His mother, Mariana Mitova, a faculty adviser at BGSU, said her son has tried to play “traditional” sports but struggled. A few years ago she wanted to sign him up for a sport, though she declined to say which, and the coach told her no, that Alex would “slow down the game.”

“That was very hard for me to hear,” Mrs. Mitova said.

RallyCap is a recreational sports program for children and young adults with special needs. The program was the idea of Paul Hooker, a 1975 graduate of BGSU, and Luke Sims, 21, a senior in the College of Business.

In 1990, Mr. Hooker started a similar program, Challenged Youth Sports, where he lives in New Jersey. Now he wants to re-create the program, partnering with universities across the country, starting with his alma mater.

He reached out to Ray Braun, dean of the business school, and Mr. Braun knew Mr. Sims and his “entrepreneurial interest” would be the right match for launching RallyCap in Bowling Green.

The program name was inspired by sports fans who turn their hats inside out and backward while trying to inspire their teams into a come-from-behind victory.

Mr. Sims thought his degree in business would lead him into the corporate world, but his involvement with RallyCap “grew into something I fell in love with and could see myself doing for the rest of my life.”

If it is, in fact, something Mr. Sims wants to do after graduation, Mr. Hooker said he’s ready to hire him.

On Sunday, the participating youth, who ranged in age from 7 to 14, golfed, tossed footballs, and kicked soccer balls with about 80 university students who volunteered. Soon a four-week soccer program for the children will kick off; the youths will get to play, meet the school’s soccer team, and play under the lights at Mickey Cochrane Soccer Stadium.

Kim and Joel Veizer of Toledo took their son, Nicholas, 13, to RallyCap for socialization and exercise. Mrs. Veizer said Nicholas brought home a flyer from school about the event and was eager to participate, which surprised her. Nicholas, she said, is “a computer nerd.”

Sunday was a chance to pull him away from screens, games, and the Internet to let him try his hand at golf. That’s what he was most interested in; after an hour, he was still going strong. “He’ll keep going like an Energizer bunny,” Mr. Veizer said.

RallyCap plans to host a different sports activity each season; more information is available at