April 7, 2014
By Kelly McHugh
On Sunday morning, K-State student athletes got together for a morning of cheers, laughs and lasting memories as the Wildcats hosted this spring's K-State Special Olympics clinic.
From obstacle courses to stick horse races to touchdown dance competitions, the Wildcats' indoor football training complex was transformed into a morning filled with fun for all athletes in attendance.
"It was a fun time to be able to hang out with a lot of the kids and people who we don't normally get to meet," said football junior Tyler Lockett. "We have 10 stations and the fun part about it was that I got to hang out with just one group. So I followed my group around the whole time. At the end we knew everybody's name without even looking at their nametags - that was a pretty cool experience to be able to get to know them."
Each of K-State's 14 athletic teams (minus baseball and tennis which were both competing) were represented at the event, and each participated in setting up and running its respective drills. With more than 100 Olympians from 17 different Special Olympics teams around Kansas' North Central Region, each athlete had the opportunity to putt with the golf team, shoot hoops with the basketball team and tackle the football team.
"This is a big thing for them. They look forward to it; they just love it," said Jeff Vogt, Kansas' North Central Regional Special Olympics director. "They love to come in and interact with the student-athletes. Being from around this area, most of them are K-State fans anyways, so they love to come in here and interact. It's a very good time for them."
Every year, members of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) gather together to set up the Special Olympics event, and this year, volleyball junior Taylor Johnson was the student-athlete in charge of the group.
"We've done it in the past, so a lot of it was kind of repetitive," began Johnson on her role in setting up the event, "but we had to get the student-athlete volunteers, get the Olympians here and get the sessions organized that way each athlete would have fun, and I think it turned out great."
Along with Johnson, women's basketball's redshirt freshman Kelly Thomson also had a hand in the event's preparation.
"We get all the sports involved," began Thomson. "Every sport kind of chooses their own station and chooses their own activity that they want to do with the athletes, then we split it up, assign sections and get everyone grouped up. Of all of our events we do throughout the year, this is the one that we have the most student-athletes come to and the one the most people enjoy. It's so fun for us to just spend a whole afternoon with these guys. It makes their day and that's fun to be a part of."
After the 110 Olympians finished their competitions and broke for lunch, they had the opportunity to walk over to the K-State baseball game - and athlete Cody Pierce just couldn't wait.
A standout track and field Special Olympian, Pierce was selected to throw out the game's first pitch.
"It was very exciting, and I was amazed that I got chosen to do it. It's a big opportunity," said Pierce.
Pierce, who competes in the 100M, the 4X100M and the long jump, will be heading to Princeton, N.J., this summer for the Special Olympics' national competition, and he was selected to throw the game's first pitch by his coach John Lair.
"Cody is getting to go to the 2014 National Special Olympics Games in New Jersey this year, so it's kind of a big year for him," explained Lair who coaches the entire New Hope Pittsburg squad. "We wanted him to have something special today and we thought it would be a unique opportunity for him."
In front of a sold out Tointon Family Stadium crowd, Pierce wound up and threw in the first pitch before K-State took on Kansas in game three of the Sunflower Showdown.
The entire stadium burst into applause as Pierce high-fived K-State catcher Blair DeBord and walked off the field.
When the day was finally said and done, the Special Olympians and student-athletes alike were left with memories that will last a lifetime.
And for one grandparent, watching his grandson interact with student-athletes at K-State really made his day.
Joe Wesoloski of Junction City brought his grandson, Daniel, to the K-State Special Olympics for the first time.
"It's just amazing. I think they're the greatest kids on earth," Wesoloski said about the student-athletes. "To give up their Sunday to help these kids - that's wonderful, and I think it should be broadcasted over the world. I can see my grandson, he's so excited and having such a good time. It just amazes me that all these students put the time in to do this; it's wonderful."
As proud grandpas do, Wesoloski continued to talk about his grandson. Daniel, who is 14, is in his first year with Special Olympics and has been competing with the Junction City Pacesetters' basketball team.
"He's my pride and joy," Wesoloski said with a tear welling in his eye. "When my wife and I got married 47 years ago, I said to her if God gives me anything, I want a grandson to get a long with me the way I get along with my grandpa - and He did better."
With a smile on his face, Wesoloski finished, "But anyways, this is just great. If I wasn't a K-State fan already today, I would be. These kids are great."