A professor in Mississippi State’s Department of Kinesiology is using the “unifying” sport of soccer to bring the MSU community and individuals with Down syndrome together.
The new Active Pals program was introduced this spring and included seven participants with Down syndrome from the local area.
“This past semester, we had teenagers and older adults participate in our physical activity program,” said Stamatis Agiovlasitis, who also is the acting past president of the North American Federation of Adapted Physical Activity. “We wanted to develop it as an outlet for research and teaching, but our primary goal for this program is to give something back to the community.”
Agiovlasitis explained individuals with Down syndrome are often not as physically active as doctors recommend, and the Active Pals program provides them with an inclusive exercise opportunity that involves individuals with disabilities, as well as MSU undergraduate students. Each MSU student partners with a participant to learn more about working with people with disabilities, while helping and encouraging them to “level up” their soccer skills.
The participants aren’t the only ones reaping the program’s benefits. Agiovlasitis said he took the opportunity to step back from spearheading the program to allow kinesiology graduate students like Brantley Ballenger to gain experience organizing, developing and implementing elements of the program.
Agiovlasitis said, “One day, these students will graduate, and they might want to do something like this, so I look at it as training for my graduate students. They know how to conduct research, but they also need to learn how to create programs.”
Ballenger said having the chance to gain experience helped him understand what goes into programs like this, and he feels better prepared to implement similar activities as he continues his academic and professional career.
“Just like implementing any sort of program, there were some difficulties at first like logistics, figuring out what drills we would do and how the partners would work,” Ballenger said. “Overall, it was a really cool experience.”