Special Olympics Indiana Youth State Basketball returns to the University of Indianapolis for the 10th consecutive tournament

Special Olympics Indiana (SOIN) is partnering with the University of Indianapolis to host the 10th consecutive SOIN Youth State Basketball tournament in Nicoson Hall on March 26. The contest is the largest state basketball tournament and consists of upwards of 275 teams, according to Manager of Sports Programs at Special Olympics Indiana and 2012 UIndy graduate Patrick Kozlowski. He helps with KINS 481: Applied Sport Management, which consists of 10 students on average who plan and put on the day-long event.

“In terms of it being the 10th, we’re gonna play that up a little bit. It won’t look a ton different in terms of how the tournament functions and what we’re doing. Basketball is still the focus because that’s what we’re here for. Dr. [Jennifer] VanSickle and I have some special things that we’re looking to do to showcase . . . ,” Kozlowski said. “Some things that can be hung up over in Nicoson or be presented to the athletic department as a thank you on behalf of special Olympics saying, ‘Hey, thanks for hosting this and being great partners for the last 10 years,’ as well as something to show as other people come into the university, they can look up and say, ‘Hey, look, UIndy has this great partnership with special Olympics.’”

Sophomore exercise science and pre-occupational therapy major Kariden Jones is enrolled in KINS 481 this semester and serves on the marketing committee. The students in the course are broken up into various committees that divide the responsibility of the event.

“We have an event manager committee who goes through and plans the run of the show. Then we have a facilities [management committee]. There’s a bunch of different committees that are going on,” Jones said. “From there, we meet together two times a week to go over what our committee has accomplished in the past week and to check in with others to see what other people do, but a lot of the class is done outside of the classroom.”

Jones said she decided to take the course because she was part of her high school’s Special Olympics basketball event. She also participated in her school’s Best Buddies program.

“Those two organizations together have rooted me . . . and rooted my knowledge in Special Olympics,” Jones said. “When this opportunity came, I just jumped on board and I’m going to be an occupational therapist, so this is right up my wheelhouse.”

The students decide how they want to split up their responsibilities Kozlowski said. One or two students act as the tournament directors who oversee the competition, others oversee and recruit the volunteers, putting together the volunteer website, some students are in charge of facility management and finally a group who oversees ancillary events for the athletes to participate in, according to Kozlowski.

“Our athletes, they like to have fun. So they come and they play a game and they may have an hour or two between their second game. What can we do to provide them a good experience while they’re here?” Kozlowski said. “We try and do some fun games or activities. That’s maybe where we try to involve some of the student groups on campus to come in and say, do you want to do art activities with them or like the men’s or women’s basketball team have come and done clinics before, the student occupational therapy group, physical therapy groups have come in . . . .”

Each committee develops a timeline for their activities throughout the semester, which decides their due dates that keep the event planning process moving, according to Jones. She said each committee has a different timeline because their tasks are not comparable. For instance, Jones said the volunteer committee timeline is different from the marketing committee’s because she can not set up a balloon arch until the day before the event whereas the volunteer committee has to recruit volunteers months in advance.

According to Kozlowski, the event intends to be presented similarly to the regular Olympics that recently took place in Beijing, China. The event has a big production of opening ceremonies, which Kozlowski said is something the students hope to replicate on a much smaller scale. He said the unique thing about the tournament is that from year to year, the core of the tournament is the same, but the bells and whistles, or the outward appearance looks different because the course has new students each year with new ideas.

“We want it to be a fun and welcoming environment. We want you to walk in and be excited for what’s going to come that day,” Jones said.

According to Jones, the KINS 481 students want the entire experience to be enjoyable rather than walking into a plain empty gym. Kozlowski said SOIN events tend to be a place where their athletes feel like they can be themselves without judgment.

“I like to tell people that Special Olympics events are probably one of the few places in the world where you can go and there’s just pure joy on the competitors’ faces,” Kozlowski said. “Most of our athletes love to win a gold medal. Obviously that’s what they’re here for. But more than that, they like competing with friends, meeting other people [and] having fun.”

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