Para Sport Summit Puts Ideas in Motion for Future Collegiate Programs

By Brianna Tammaro | Dec. 07, 2017, 11:17 a.m. (ET)

The 2017 Collegiate Para Sport Summit hosted by U.S. Paralympics gathered 30 of the nation's top athletics and disability leaders from Dec. 4-5 at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Thirty of the nation’s top athletics and disability leaders gathered this week at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, for the first-ever 2017 Collegiate Para Sport Summit hosted by U.S. Paralympics, a division of the United States Olympic Committee.

Over the course of two days, attendees from universities, collegiate athletic conferences and the NCAA engaged in conversations surrounding the current state of and next steps for collegiate programs and opportunities for student-athletes with disabilities. 

“It’s been extremely enlightening in a sense that you have national leaders in so many different areas of the Paralympic Movement, and the conversations have led to really concrete steps forward,” Zak Ivković, executive director of the City University of New York Athletic Conference, said. “One of my goals was to come out of this with some tangible ways for making the Paralympic Movement that much stronger so that we can support Team USA in a bigger and better way than we have before. I feel very happy and confident with the conversations that have taken place and the action steps that we have agreed to.” 

Ivković, who helps to serve the approximately 9,000 students with disabilities in the CUNY network, has been involved in Para athletics for the past three years and said he hopes to see every NCAA institution support the dreams and provide opportunities for students with disabilities at the recreational, club and intercollegiate levels.  

“At the very least, we want them to get involved recreationally for health benefits down the road,” he said. “However, if they choose to participate in intercollegiate groups or go above and beyond and be a Paralympian representing Team USA, then we want to provide that access and roadway to make that happen. That was my reason for getting involved. To be amongst this group is even more exciting because I’m learning from the best of the best.”

Inspired by the annual NCAA Inclusion Forum and research conducted by the USOC’s Collegiate Partnerships department, the Summit promoted a full day of presentations, small-group activities, collective brainstorming and a panel featuring Team USA track and field athletes Deja Young (Mesquite, Texas) and Isaac Jean-Paul (Grayslake, Illinois). Young, a two-time Paralympic medalist and senior at Wichita State University, and Jean-Paul, a world champion and graduate of Lewis University, both competed at their respective schools and spoke to their journeys to Paralympic sport. They also presented the challenges they’ve faced and ways to create more opportunities for athletes who seek or are already competing at the intercollegiate level. 

Leaders returned to their universities and programs with resources and steps for putting the ideas into action, including creating a collegiate task force, communications plan, strategy for championships and competitions, and a university leadership campaign. The event invigorated U.S. Paralympics staff to continue the conversations and to be hopeful of the potential for integration with Para and collegiate programs. 

“It’s invaluable,” Paul Ackerman, USOC director of Paralympic sport development, said. “It’s these institutions that are looking out for the students’ interests from an educational and athletic perspective and it’s only these institutions that can put programs in place. A lot of the discussions we’ve had this week revolved around how we can get university buy-in from the president and leadership to the coaches, athletic directors and of course, the athletes.”