SE: Wildcats Give Back: Special Olympics

K-State student-athletes got together this past Sunday with Special Olympic teams from around the area for a morning of cheers, laughter and lasting memories. 

From obstacle courses to putting competitions to touchdown dances, just like every year, the Wildcats’ indoor football training facility was filled to the brim with smiling faces. 

“The Special Olympic Clinic is one of the coolest events that SAAC puts on,” said K-State women’s basketball senior Kelly Thomson, vice president of K-State’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC). “With this event, you get to see your impact and you get to see how happy you make them. Everyone has a blast when they’re out here. They don’t stop smiling, we don’t stop smiling; it’s just a really fun event for us to be able to give back and be able to spend time with the kids. They love us and they look up to us, so it’s a cool opportunity for all of us as athletes.” 

This year marked the fourth time Thomson has participated with K-State’s Special Olympics Clinic and the third year she’s been the SAAC leader in charge of organizing the event. Thomson said she’s had the opportunity to really get to know know many of the Special Olympians over her four years with the event, and every year their faces become more and more familiar. 

“I’ve definitely started to build relationships,” said Thomson with a smile. “I’m excited to see the same faces every year; they just light up when they see you again.” 

The annual Special Olympics Clinic is completely led by student-athletes each year. Spearheaded by Thomson, K-State student-athletes involved in SAAC have spent the past few months working together to set up the clinic. SAAC members from 15 of K-State’s programs organized volunteers to man their stations. They signed the Special Olympians in, ordered and prepared lunches for every athlete in attendance and made sure everything went smoothly from start to finish. 

“I thought it was a success today,” said men’s basketball junior and SAAC member D.J. Johnson, who, like Thomson, has been volunteering with the Special Olympics Clinic for four years. “I had a really good time watching everyone come out and participate. Just seeing the athletes really happy, that made me happy. This is a great opportunity to give back. I know my teammates and I love coming out and helping out.” 

Overall, 103 Special Olympians from the state of Kansas were in attendance while 100-plus student-athletes showed up to help out. 

But the day didn’t end when the clinic was over. 

While the Wildcat baseball team was unable to set up a station at the clinic because it had a home game to prepare for, that didn’t stop the team from being a part of the day. 

Following the clinic, the Special Olympians headed over to Tointon Family Stadium for an afternoon of baseball, and one lucky Wildcat fan had the opportunity to get on the field to throw out the first pitch. 

Aaron Vaughn of Andover, Kansas, has two older brothers who both attended K-State, so he’s been a long time Wildcat fan. He celebrated his 20th birthday on Sunday, and his mom, Sarah Vaughn, said throwing out the first pitch was icing on the cake after an exciting day at K-State. 

“The first pitch, it just makes this day complete,” said Sarah, the Special Olympics Community Leader for Butler County. “Since it’s his birthday, being able to come out for all of this is amazing. What better birthday present for him being a K-Stater? He loves sports, so the clinic was perfect in itself, but the first pitch is just an added bonus.” 

Through his Special Olympics team, the Butler Blazers, Aaron competes in softball, basketball, track and field, swimming, soccer and bowling. He said his favorite part of Sunday’s clinic was putting with the K-State golf team, but he also loved running for touchdowns with the football team, shooting hoops with the basketball team and kicking the ball around with the women’s soccer team. 

From spending the morning with student-athletes to throwing the first pitch to a Bat Cat victory over Texas, it was a very special birthday for Aaron Vaughn. 

“It’s really amazing that these kids get to experience what the K-State athletes go through and what they do,” said Sarah. “It’s so exciting that they get to hang out with them today.” 

From start to finish, Sunday was a success for the Special Olympians and the Wildcat student-athletes alike. 

“I love working with them,” said sophomore football player @Dalt. “It’s so fun. I enjoy it so much. I always tell myself I want to be more like them. They humble us. The little things make them so happy and they’re so nonjudgmental. They’re just great people and I love them.” 

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