LEICESTER, Mass. – The Leicester Gymnasium was a place full of smiles and cheer on Sunday (Jan. 27) as the Becker College Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) hosted its annual Special Olympics Massachusetts basketball games.
Becker students-athletes came together to cheer on four Massachusetts teams in four different basketball games. Becker's SAAC setup the games, interacted with the special Olympians, ran the tables during the games, refereed the games and cheered on the athletes.
"It was really a special day for all our teams to come together as one and cheer on a really great cause," said Becker's SAAC Co-President and member of the Becker baseball team, Michael McMahon. "It was really just a great day overall as a community – it really brings together both athletes and students."
SAAC Co-President and member of the Becker women's soccer team, Jordyn Martel, was on the public address for the day. "I definitely got over my fear of public speaking, but I had a fun time doing so. It was great to get involved in the community and give back. It's always a fun time, and this is the best turnout we have had in my four years [as a part of the event], so it was great to be a part of."
The Special Olympic basketball teams are comprised of athletes with intellectual disabilities, ages 9-16, and their unified partners, who are peers that help the game move along. Milford Juniors head coach, Kristine Dumas explained, "The unified partners are not allowed to shoot, but they help get rebounds, make passes and just teach the special Olympians how to play basketball. Unfortunately, we didn't have any today, but some Becker student-athletes stepped in and helped us move things along."
Dumas' team is mostly on the younger side and the special Olympians range from 9-11 years old. "We've seen a lot of new faces who have never played before and are still learning the basic skills of running and dribbling at the same time, along with learning how to pass to our friends.
Jake, a member of the Milford Juniors team is the tallest player on his team and his teammates like to pass the ball to him when he is in the paint. "My favorite part about today was scoring baskets," he said. He also was thrilled with the fans in the stands cheering him on.
"The crowd was like no other today, and to have everyone come down and be involved during the halftime show was great," stated McMahon. At the halftime, fans in the crowd and the special Olympians came down to the floor and danced to favorites such as The Cha-Cha Slide and Cupid's Shuffle. "The joy overall was my favorite part of the day – seeing on the kids' faces how happy they were that us college students were cheering them on."
"I am beyond impressed with how helpful everyone was today," expressed Dumas. "This was our first time playing here, and I am very happy with the way the event went today."
McMahon concluded, "I want to thank everyone who came out today, and a special thanks to all the special Olympians who made it an event that was like no other."
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.