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Leah Scruggs
Leah Scruggs, center, flanked by two Special Olympians at Ober Gatlinburg during the recent Winter Games.

For the past four years, Leah Scruggs has been a passionate Volunteer fan, a devoted sorority sister, and a busy student pursing a degree in sport management. But the graduating senior still made time to give back to her community through Special Olympics.

“Being around the athletes changes your life. People at Special Olympics go out of their way to make sure the athletes feel special, and you truly see how happy it makes them,” said Scruggs, who will be on the sidelines helping and cheering April 20 and 21 at the Special Olympics of Greater Tennessee’s track and field games at Hardin Valley Academy.

The track and field games, which will include events for elementary, middle, and high school students as well as adults, are the organization’s largest event of the year.

Scruggs, of Knoxville, became interested in helping students with special needs in high school when she was a peer tutor at Hardin Valley Academy. Scruggs spent time with these students at lunch and outside of school, and took a friend with autism spectrum disorder to homecoming one year.

After her experience as a peer tutor, she began to volunteer for Special Olympics.

“Being involved with Special Olympics athletes shows you true, genuine friendships because they don’t care about anything other than calling you a friend,” Scruggs explained. “They encourage each other and demonstrate true sportsmanship, and you can learn a lot being around these athletes.”

Scruggs has been a regional intern for Special Olympics since January. Most of her duties are related to communication and marketing, but she also helps with event planning.

“Volunteers, like Leah, are important to enabling the planning and coordination of our events,” said Nichole Sutton, media coordinator for Special Olympics of Greater Knoxville. “The amount of work done by these volunteers is invaluable and their importance cannot be overstated.”

Scruggs said she’d like to work for Special Olympics or another nonprofit after graduating.

“I want to feel like my life has a purpose, and I want my job to reflect that,” Scruggs said.


Amy Blakely, UT media relations (865-974-5034,

Sarah Mynatt, student writer (865-804-4064,