WORCESTER, Mass. – The Wellness Center was full of cheer on Sunday (Feb. 25) as the Worcester State University Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) hosted Special Olympics community basketball games inside the Lancer Gymnasium and the Multipurpose Gymnasium.
In its second year hosting the event at the Wellness Center, Worcester State’s SAAC gathered together to put on the games for Central Massachusetts Special Olympic teams. SAAC President, Kylie Farrell, could see the excitement from the teams from the start.
“A couple teams showed up at 8 a.m. today very eager to play, and the event did not start until 10 a.m.,” said Farrell.
The Special Olympic teams do not get many opportunities to compete. Wolverines (one of four teams at Seven Hills) head Coach Kevin Hema said, “We practice once a week. The only real competition the teams see are for the qualifiers and states between the months of October and May. This event gives the teams an opportunity to match up against different teams in the community.”
The Special Olympic basketball teams are comprised of athletes with intellectual disabilities, ages 22+, and their partners who assist them with play throughout competition. Cougars coach Jack Foley said, “We play a different way, in that our partners don’t score. They are there to feed our special olympians and put them in position to score.”
Danny Lugo, also coach of the Cougars, has been involved in the Special Olympics program since he was just eight years old. His sister, Melinda, is on the team and she has been playing with the same group for 23 years. Lugo, since then, has transitioned from a partner to a coach for his sister’s team.
“They have a lot of fun playing, and our goal is to try and have everyone score. We really make it about them,” said Lugo. “The chemistry is certainly there after playing together so long.”
Melinda Lugo and teammate Liz Laurie commented on the teams’ play, “We did good so far. We tied in our first game and have another one coming up. We really play together, we are like family and have so much fun together.”
Foley said, “Winning or losing, it is a lesson for them to learn.”
Worcester State’s SAAC members were there to setup the game, interact with the special Olympians, run the tables during the games, referee the games and cheer on the athletes. Worcester State’s Chandler H. Lancer also made an appearance at the event.
“My favorite part of the day was at the beginning when everyone was warming up,” said Farrell. “Being able to be out there and interact with the special Olympians, get rebounds, pass them the ball, go one-on-one – it was a lot of fun.”
SAAC Social Media Representative Mike Kadlick was the social media coordinator for the day, “I am promoting the event on social media, working the music upstairs, and cheering like crazy!”
SAAC member and student assistant to Worcester State University women’s basketball team, Bryant Va, was a referee for the day. “I am seeing a lot of hard work from the participants. They work hard, are competitive and display that throughout the entire game – moving the ball around a lot on offense.”
“My favorite part of the day was putting on the music and dancing,” said Va. “Showing off my moves, and then the special Olympians can show me theirs.”
“Every year our SAAC members love this event,” said Worcester State SAAC Advisor, Kelly Downs. “They enjoy seeing and helping the special Olympians compete and have fun between games playing music, dancing and shooting around.”
“It was an honor to host in our new Wellness Center,” said Va. “It puts a smile on the participant’s faces, as well as ours. I hope Worcester State keeps doing events like these.”
“After the event I am always asked, ‘can we do this again next year?’ It’s great to see our athletes enjoying giving back to the community,” concluded Downs.
The Division III Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) initiated the partnership at the 2011 NCAA Convention and officially launched the partnership on August 1, 2011. The purpose of the partnership is to enhance the lives of Division III student-athletes and Special Olympics athletes through a mutual learning experience; provide a platform for recognition of Special Olympics athletes and Division III student-athletes within their communities; and raise awareness of Special Olympics, its programs and services.