Jennifer Speer

Erin Gleim, Students with Disabilities agency director, speaks at a Student Government meeting in the SAC on Tuesday evening.
Photo Credit: Rachel Zein | Daily Texan Staff

Student Government members considered a resolution Thursday for the creation of an adaptive sports and recreation program, an initiative that would allow for more team-based recreational opportunities for students with mobility issues or visual impairments. The program’s purpose is to better include students with disabilities in activities on campus.

In the resolution, Erin Gleim, Students with Disabilities agency director, wrote that the initiative is part of an effort to expand and “provide resources for the overall health and wellness of all students and staff.”

The program is still in its early stages of development, according to Kelli Bradley, director of Services for Students with Disabilities. The initiative could be in place as soon as this fall,
Gleim said.

For the 2014-2015 school year, 2,289 students are registered with Services for Students with Disabilities. 

 “At this time, we are still assessing the needs, logistics, and interest [of students],” Bradley said in an email.

Gleim said an adaptive sports program could potentially be incorporated into TeXercise, an exercise program that allows students to take fitness classes at the University. It might also exist as an independent program, and include activities such as adaptive wheelchair rugby or basketball, for the disabled community.

The resolution is a joint project between Student Government, the Division of Recreational Sports, Services for Students with Disabilities and University Health Services. Jennifer Speer, associate director of Communications, Assessment & Development in the Division of Recreational Sports, said RecSports has been in contact with Gleim to plan details of the program.

“We want to make sure we provide recreational opportunities for everyone on campus,” Speer said. “If we are able to provide a service for students that is needed in this specific population, then that would be very beneficial.”

Speer said the University offered similar projects in the past, but the programs disbanded because of low attendance.

“Interest with students kind of diminished,” Speer said. “We would work with St. David’s to have them come over and use the space for their basketball [and] wheelchair rugby programs.”

Other universities, such as Texas A&M, University of Houston and UT-Arlington, have adaptive sports programs. In A&M’s student organization Aggie Adaptive Sports, students host recreational events for those with physical disabilities, especially those in wheelchairs. Tracey Forman, advisor for Aggie Adaptive Sports, said the program is still small because of a smaller community of people with disabilities in College Station.  

“Houston, Austin, Dallas and San Antonio — they have enough people in their community; they have centers,” Forman said. “Ours is very recrational, noncompetitive at this point. [Our members] would love
to get more people involved.”

Gleim said she hopes to look at other universities’ programs to help mold UT’s adaptive program. 

“It will be a big program and undertaking,” Gleim said. “We’re just in the planning stages right now, but we’ve been given the green light, so we’re going for it.”

SG plans to vote on the resolution next week, Gleim said.

Photo Credit: Stephanie Vanicek | Daily Texan Staff

The palm trees surrounding the Gregory Gym aquatic complex, included as decoration, have cost RecSports more than $40,000 in the past eight years to maintain and replace. 

The palm trees were planned as one of the biggest features at the aquatic complex through a student and faculty initiative. In the past eight years, though, RecSports has had to replace four of the 12 total palm trees at the aquatic complex all because of the weather.

“Students really voiced their desire at that point to create an environment that was like no other on campus,” Jennifer Speer, associate communications director for RecSports said. “They wanted it to be, they used the term, ‘an oasis in the middle of an urban campus.’” 

Although palm trees are not native to Central Texas, Maggie Ambrosino, arborist and owner of Austin-based Brown and Green Tree Care & Consulting Co., said they survive fairly well because of their minimal watering needs and low up-keep, but drastic changes in weather affect palm trees more so than other campus trees. 

“We’ve lost one to lightning, and three we lost to a very bad freeze we had about three years ago,” Speer said. “We had a major ice storm, and the trees hadn’t fully rooted at that point and so we did lose those three.”

Ambrosino said the vascular system and center frond, or “heart,” of palm trees — which carry all the water and nutrients — are vital to the plant’s survival in instances of overwatering or freezing temperatures.

“If a tree gets a wound, it has the ability to compartmentalize that wound and produce wound tissue, and once again, you will be able to have movement through that vascular system,” Ambrosino said. “So for palm trees … what’s important to them is the interior. Once you lost that to heart rot, which is what you see most palms dying from, their lifeline really is on the interior of the plant and not the exterior like it is in a tree. And so once you lost that center frond, it rots, the whole thing is done.”

Replacement trees generally cost RecSports roughly $10,000 each. RecSports also rents a crane for the seven- to eight-hour installation process at $400 an hour, according to Speer.  

RecSports operates under an annual budget of $8.8 million, with $2.2 million in salaries for the 1,000 students employed each year. 

Speer said the crane is necessary for installing new trees within the complex, which is surrounded by Waller Creek and other campus buildings. 

“When we’ve had to replace trees, we’ve had to rent a crane to lift the trees up and over buildings,” Speer said. “We’ve learned through a lot of cost analysis that this is the most efficient way to do it, which means it’s also the least expensive because it cuts down the labor costs.”

Speer said for the last century, RecSports has partnered with students on everything, including a committee involving both students and faculty that planned the aesthetic features of the space.

“We had looked at putting metal light poles out there as an alternative, and when we did that cost analysis, it was determined that to install the light poles was very similar to what it would cost to install a tree and the light poles would have same issues in terms of annual maintenance,” Speer said. 

The continued maintenance of the complex’s landscape comes from a partnership with RecSports and landscaping contractor Valley Crest, which began in 2006. 

“We have a contract that we generally service the property once or twice a week … doing any maintenance that needs to be done as far as details of the property and landscape, pruning and general cleanup,” said Eric Light, manager of the Austin branch of ValleyCrest. “Basically, what we do is cut back any dead fronds at the base and also remove any fruit from them as well.” 

Members of the UT community begin the 3rd Annual Longhorn Run on campus Saturday. Photo courtesy of Mark Tway. 

With the firing of Smokey the Cannon by London Olympic silver medalist and UT alumnus Trey Hardee, members of the UT community endured a run of two miles or 10K for a campus fundraising event.

More than 2,100 people registered for the 3rd Annual Longhorn Run, with about 80 percent being UT students or alumni, according to Jennifer Speer, associate director of RecSports.

Speer said this year’s event focused on UT traditions with more student organizations becoming involved — including Texas Blazers, Orange Jackets, Texas Cowboys and Texas Soccer Club — compared to last year.

“We incorporated different spirit and tradition groups along the route,” Speer said. “Last year, we had Longhorn Band and Smokey, which was great, but we really wanted to enhance that to give a very UT event, not something you would find in the city of Austin.”

For Saturday’s event, UT spokeswoman Cynthia Posey said UTPD did not have any reports that were filed. Last year, members of the Make UT Sweatshop-Free Coalition protested for the University to agree to join the Worker’s Rights Consortium, an organization that monitors the working conditions of appeal manufactures in foreign factories. UT joined the consortium on July 18, 2012.

Student Government and RecSports co-sponsored the event, and Nike helped organize it. All proceeds of the run go to the Student Government Excellence Fund, which goes out to student organizations to put on social equality and social justice events, according to Speer. She said the amount of money raised will not be known until June because the organizers still have to pay invoices, but last year’s run brought in $30,000.

Angga Pratama, civil engineering honors senior and student chairman of Longhorn Run, said the event has multiple parts to its purpose.

“This is a run that we wanted to do both to give back to students and the University where everybody’s active,” Pratama said. “This is the case, on campus, to run around and be active.”

Accounting junior Simi Mathur said her interest in running and her professor Brent Iverson — chemistry and biochemistry department chairman — inspired her to run the race.

“I really like running and I think it is great to get everyone out and join in on this run,” Mathur said. “Even though you can make it as serious or as fun as you want, it is kind of more like uniting us together to do something that is really good for us.”

Top male runner in the 10K run was Scott Rantall of Cedar Park with a time of 32:25. Jessie-Raye Bodenhamer finished first as the top female in the 10K race at 35:27. Christopher Ramirez was the top male in the two mile run at 10:02 and Corey Timmerman of Austin completed the race as the top woman with a time of 12:04.

Some of the race prizes included custom boots, a belt buckle and Nike FuelBands. Pratama said he hopes that the Longhorn Run becomes a staple for the spring semester.

“When people look through their calendars for the spring semester,” Pratama said, “We want Longhorn Run to be something that they check and be like ‘I need to save that day for the Longhorn Run because it’s something I look forward to in the spring time.’”