ESPN has named Texas Tech to its "Unified Champion School Honor List." It identifies the top 36 programs nation-wide that are paving the way for a more inclusive community.
"Cury Wilson, a grad student at Tech now, she walked into my office and she said 'hey I was researching how we could get involved with special Olympics and I see that other colleges have a program called SO college'," said Ashley Perez, executive director for Special Olympics in the West Texas region.
"'Why don't we have that and how do we do it?' and I said 'I just need someone like you to open some doors on Tech campus'."
Perez says the process to get the Special Olympics program at Tech was a long one.
"We did pop-up days, where we would just bring Special Olympics banners and hope people would ask us what we are doing so that we could talk about unified. And it grew from us literally playing pick-up basketball games at some schools in the Frenship district to having full-on intramural tournaments on the Texas Tech campus, so its been pretty cool to see."
Texas Tech is the first university in Texas to hold this honor. The program is only in its third year.
"We provide year-round support trainings and competitions for children and adults with intellectual disabilities," Perez said. "So we're able to pair them up with a team, whether it's a community team or through a school district, and we train them in different sports. Your traditional sports that you would see like basketball, soccer track and field."
Pena is working on growing the program and says the recognition shows the hard work her team put in.
"I mean we made the top 36 out of 7,600-plus schools and growing everyday to be able to get that honor was amazing."
ESPN will announce its top five schools on October 12.