Beck Hoskins (left), a student at Eastern Mennonite University, helped to bring Saturday's Special Olympics Fall Extravaganza to campus. She interned with the nonprofit organization this summer. (Photos by Riley Swartzendruber)

Student-athlete helps bring Special Olympics fall event to EMU

 In his roughly 20 years as a Special Olympics athlete, Watkins Parrish played almost every sport he could, including bowling, basketball and swimming. On Sunday, the 45-year-old Harrisonburg resident put his volleyball skills to the test during the 2018 Special Olympics Virginia’s Fall Extravaganza held at Eastern Mennonite University.

“I love all the sports,” he said. “It’s good exercise.”

Parrish was among more than 200 Special Olympians from western Virginia to participate in bocce, soccer and volleyball. Participants in Sunday’s regional event will qualify for the fall statewide tournament in Virginia Beach on Nov. 3.

This year’s event was held at EMU for the first time, thanks to EMU volleyball and softball player Beck Hoskins. Hoskins interned with Special Olympics Virginia during the summer and worked with college leaders to move the event from Woodrow Wilson High School in Augusta County to EMU.

Several hundred athletes spent Sunday afternoon at Eastern Mennonite University in hopes of qualifying for the fall state tournament.

Daniel Leake, director of the Special Olympics Virginia’s Shenandoah Region, said the atmosphere makes the athletes feel included.

“They really love being on a university campus and interacting with the college athletes,” he said.

Bridgewater resident Tammy Torkelson, the area’s Special Olympics director, said the athletes were excited about the games. “It’s good to see them happy,” Torkelson said. “They’re full of joy.”

In addition to playing sports, Torkelson said, the area group has started a Fit 5 campaign to encourage healthy habits.

“We’re trying to teach a lifestyle,” Torkelson said. “We’re trying to emphasize five bottles of water a day, five fruits and vegetables a day, and five exercises a day.”

Troy Evans, 29, of Elkton, serves as a Special Olympics global messenger and travels throughout the state speaking on behalf of the organization. On Sunday, he suited up for his volleyball team, the Valley Spikers.

“It’s exciting,” Evans said “especially with the great team and coaches I have.”

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