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DIII and Special Olympics basketball clinic part of 75th Celebration experience

By Kat Krtnick

Yesterday was likely the biggest game of their careers.  For most, it was probably the first time they competed in an NBA arena, in front of 6,300 fans and on live television. That’s even without the flashing lights and fanfare leading up to the game, which included police escorts, introductions at the Division I Final Four, interviews with Jim Nantz at the Salute presentation, and press conferences with national media.

Approximately 65 Special Olympics athletes from the Atlanta area spent the afternoon developing their ball-handling, shooting and defensive skills under the tutelage of the Amherst and Mary Hardin-Baylor student-athletes, as well as a handful of Emory student-athletes. Rudy Gonzalez/NCAA Photos

To say the least, the two NCAA Division III men’s basketball national championship contenders received nothing short of the royal treatment last weekend as part of the 75thCelebration of March Madness.

But amidst all the new-founded fame, the Amherst College Lord Jeffs and University of Mary Hardin-Baylor Crusaders have stayed grounded and true to the their Division III roots.

On Friday, both teams dedicated time away from the court and film sessions to volunteer at a Special Olympics basketball clinic, hosted by Emory University.

“We are so lucky and blessed that the NCAA has put on this big 75th Celebration. It is an experience of a lifetime for us student-athletes, and community service is an important part of it,” said Willy Workman, senior history major at Amherst.

“To see so many athletes passionate about the game – it is really special to be able to lend a hand to others that also love to play basketball.”

Approximately 65 Special Olympics athletes from the Atlanta area spent the afternoon developing their ball-handling, shooting and defensive skills under the tutelage of the Amherst and Mary Hardin-Baylor student-athletes, as well as a handful of Emory student-athletes.

After an introduction and welcome from Annette Lynch, senior manager of Special Olympics North Olympics, Dan Dutcher, vice president for NCAA Division III, and Bob Gobrecht, president and managing director of Special Olympics North America, the Special Olympics athletes participated in small-group skills stations.  

During the first half of the clinic, the student-athletes coached and cheered on the Special Olympics athletes as they honed their skills and learned from some of Division III’s most talented players. Rudy Gonzalez/NCAA Photos

During the first half of the clinic, the student-athletes coached and cheered on the Special Olympics athletes as they honed their skills and learned from some of Division III’s most talented players. The Special Olympics athletes rotated stations periodically, where they had the opportunity to study under the unique coaching styles of the Lord Jeff and Crusader players.

 “It is a blast working with these athletes. The joy you get from working with them is a blessing,” said Avery Polchinski, freshman psychology major at Mary Hardin-Baylor.

Following the stations, the Special Olympics athletes put their newly-refined basketball skills to the test in a full-court scrimmage format. The Emory student-athletes served as unified partners during the competitions.  

The clinic closed with a cheer and with each of the Special Olympics athletes sharing what they had learned during the clinic.

Erin Jarrell, Special Olympics athlete from Coweta County, shared first: “Today I learned about the importance of teamwork”. Others added that they improved their shooting, were making better passes and liked to work with college players who were sharing their abilities. In essence, they were being treated just like basketball players…being challenged and having fun in the process.

Each Special Olympics athlete also received a t-shirt, water bottle and commemorative basketball autographed by the Amherst and Mary Hardin-Baylor players.

NCAA Division III donated all equipment used during the clinic, including basketballs, ball racks and water coolers to the county Special Olympics programs who participated in the clinic.

The Special Olympics athletes represented a variety of groups and teams throughout the Atlanta area, including,  Fosyth County, Coweta County, Annandale, Macon-Bibb P&R, Just People, Serenity, and Douglas Co.

**A special thanks to Emory University and the Special Olympics Georgia staffs for organizing such a wonderful clinic, delivering the best in facilities and providing the most positive experience for all involved.