The University of Indianapolis hosted a Special Olympics basketball tournament for the seventh consecutive year on Saturday, March 25. The event lasted all day and was organized by students in the Applied Event Management course taught by Associate Professor of Kinesiology Jennifer VanSickle.
“Being on a college campus with a bunch of students willing to help out makes the entire process possible,” said volunteer coordinator and junior sports management and business management major Michaela Henderson.
According to Tournament Director and junior sports management and business management major Briana Henderson, almost 400 UIndy students put on blue Special Olympics T-shirts and volunteered to help out with the tournament. She said the students in the course had been preparing for the tournament since the beginning of the semester.
“We had a really good turnout,” said junior sports management major Blake Luker. “There were a lot of parents. A lot of student athletes came to show their support. The football team was incredibly loud in the cheer block.”
The tournament was comprised of 30 teams divided into nine divisions based on skill, level and age, according to Briana.
Most volunteers worked in cheer blocks set up to support each team. The people in the cheer blocks rooted for the athletes and competed against the other teams’ cheer sections to be the loudest.
“Some different sports teams and groups of friends came in for two-hour shifts to cheer on the teams,” said tournament director and senior sports management major Alec Rohr. “They formed a tunnel for them when they were introduced before the game and cheered them on for the entire game.”
Students in the cheer blocks would run out onto the court and even carry some of the athletes around on their shoulders after scoring points.
“I think everyone had a good time,” Briana said. “We definitely had loud cheer sections in here, where everyone was going nuts, and the athletes were getting high fives.… Everyone was super excited to be here; I think the volunteers all had fun.”
Watching the faces of the athletes made up for all of the hard work, according to Michaela.
“They love getting cheered on just like everyone else.… Seeing their faces when they make a basket is the most rewarding thing ever,” Michaela said. “We do it all for them.”
The games were played in both the Ruth Lilly Fitness Center and Nicoson Hall, while non-basketball games and basketball drill sessions were held off the courts by the UIndy women’s basketball team and the ultimate frisbee team, according to Rohr.
Multiple activity rooms were set up for the younger athletes who had time between games.
“One room was set up with a Wii for the kids to play,” said junior exercise science and pre-occupational therapy major Kailan Henderson. “There was a room that had coloring activities. One of the rooms had real-life “Angry Birds,” and one room was set up to have a fake press table where you could ask the athletes questions. Once they [the athletes] did everything, they go to pick prizes before they left.”
Teams from all over the state made the trip to play at UIndy, according to Luker.
“UIndy does a great job hosting. I volunteered two years ago and loved it. This is a great venue for this tournament,” Luker said.
Rohr said that while the tournament has been held every year at UIndy since 2010, this year the campus really came out in support of the Special Olympics.
“Everyone had a good time,” he said. “A couple of the officials actually told me it was the loudest they have heard this tournament in the seven years it has been at UIndy.”