No one can escape March Madness in the U.S. – especially this year, which marked the 75th anniversary of the event. The Cinderella stories, the underdog teams that somehow find their way to the Sweet 16 against all odds that you can’t help but become a temporary fan of…and then there’s the Final Four – a weekend where fans are immersed in the sport they love.
And amongst the throngs of fans and frenzy of activities were the athletes of Special Olympics, holding “court” with the best of them.
The basketball-packed weekend kicked off in Atlanta with a clinic hosted by our partners at NCAA Division III. The Amherst College Lord Jeffs and University of Mary Hardin-Baylor Crusaders took a break from their busy Final Four schedules to volunteer at a Special Olympics basketball clinic, hosted by Emory University.
65 Special Olympics Georgia athletes spent the afternoon developing their ball-handling, shooting and defensive skills under the tutelage of the Amherst and Mary Hardin-Baylor student-athletes, as well as a handful of Emory student-athletes.
“We are so lucky and blessed that the NCAA has put on this big 75th Celebration. It is an experience of a lifetime for us student-athletes, and community service is an important part of it,” said Willy Workman, senior history major at Amherst. “To see so many athletes passionate about the game – it is really special to be able to lend a hand to others that also love to play basketball.”
Read how Coach Todd Youngblood and eight of his Special Olympics Georgia athletes took “The Road Less Traveled” to the Final Four.
Then, down in the Crescent City, Special Olympics Louisiana athletes got the clinic of a lifetime, as coaches and players participating in the NCAA Women’s Final Four in New Orleans, including six All-American players, teamed up with the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association for an afternoon of skills and drills.
Most women’s basketball fans would have done anything to trade places with our athletes, as such powerhouse players as Brittney Griner and Odyssey Simms of Baylor, Elena Delle Donne of Delaware, and Chiney Ogwumike of Stanford, lead the clinic, along with University of New Orleans women’s basketball Head Coach Keeshawn Carter and her staff, and members of the WBCA.
And last, but certainly not least, back up in Atlanta, current and former NCAA, WNBA and NBA all-stars joined six lucky Atlanta area athletes and six representatives from Special Olympics Founding Partner Coca-Cola of our first-ever Coca-Cola – Special Olympics Unified Sports Experience basketball clinic at Bracket Town during the Men’s Final Four.
The event emcees were Kenny “the Jet” Smith (retired, NBA), Christian Laettner (retired, NBA) and Special Olympics Georgia athlete Matthew Wynne.
Special Olympics Georgia athletes Sherrie Ferguson, Kyle McEver, Rashad Richardson, Brittney Hagelthorn, Chip Ford and Tarcia Keys teamed up with Nicole Powell (current WNBA), Reggie Love (Duke 2001 Championship team), Dikembe Mutombo (retired, NBA and Special Olympics ambassador), Robert Horry, Jr. (retired, NBA), Ruth Riley (current WNBA) and Lindsay Whalen (current WNBA) and their Coca-Cola teammates for a head-to-head challenge between “Team Powerade” and “Team Coca-Cola.”
Each team featured Coke, Special Olympics and celebrity players. The teams had to make it through a series of timed spot shots, obstacle courses and relays. With the score going back and forth, thanks to an all-out sprint by Marvin Vines of Coca-Cola (beating out the long legs Dikembe Mutombo no less), Team Powerade emerged victorious!
But in the true spirit of Special Olympics Unified Sports, everyone walked away a better athlete and person for having participated and shown the world the unifying power of sports.
Thanks to all the organizations, teams and players involved, it was a slam dunk of a weekend indeed!