K-State Sports Extra: Special Olympics

By Mark Janssen

A variety of Kansas State sports teams hosted a cast of Olympians on Sunday at the Wildcats' indoor football facility.

It's the 3rd Annual Special Olympics Sports Clinic, which included 40 to 50 KSU student-athletes hosting 80-plus Special Olympians that will came in from such locations as Baileyville, Junction City, Shawnee, Saline County and Manhattan.

"At K-State the day is the project of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee with that group in charge of getting volunteers from the various teams," said Kristin Waller, an academic counselor and Director of Life Skills.

Jill Shields, Associate Athletics Director for Student Services, said of the opportunity, "I think our student-athletes get a real appreciation for their own physical health and abilities that sometimes can be taken for granted until they see kids and adults struggling to run. I think for many of them it becomes a humbling experience."

Initially, Shields said some student-athletes may not want to work at it, "... but then they see the Special Olympians' appreciation and personalities and everything changes. The Olympians are so happy to be there. They think it's the neatest thing in the world to make a basketball pass to Dom (Dominique Sutton)."

Chris Merriewether of the men's basketball team said the previous two years had been a "great experience" for him. "These are some athletes who are very passionate about what they do, just like we are with what we do at K-State. As student-athletes, it's a chance for us to give back, but it's also an inspiration to see what they're able to accomplish.

"It's a day that puts things in perspective," Merriewether continued. "It's very humbling to be a part of the experience."

Jason Schulte, a junior on the KSU men's golf team, said, "I get a huge thrill out of it. The smallest drill or exercise we do in golf brings a ton of enthusiasm from them, which is inspiring. It's just fun to give them a small glimpse of what we do every day in our sport."

Each Big 12 Conference institution does a special project for the Special Olympians in their specific state, but in just three years, the K-State effort has become the model program for several other league schools.

Waller indicated that there were seven activity stations where the Special Olympians will be performed drills: an indoor rowing machine, a sprint workout with batons, catching a pass and dashing for a touchdown, golf putting exercises, basketball passing and dribbling skills, practicing volleyball sets and bumps, and Merriewether at a stretching and fitness station.

"In prior years when I was just at the basketball station I thought, 'Next year I'm going to teach them how to get stronger and how to stay limber,' " said Merriewether. "I put together a few drills that they could take home and do on their own to become a better athlete and healthier athlete."

Also helping with the day were members of the women's equestrian team.

After a time to meet Willie Wildcat and get autographs, the Olympians, ranging in age from their teens to well into adulthood, were treated to lunch and the Kansas State baseball game with Baylor at Tointon Family Stadium.

"Dewayne Purnell of Junction City threw out the first pitch," said Waller, "plus all of the Olympians were recognized at the game."