NEW LONDON, Conn. – Mitchell College recently welcomed athletes from Special Olympics Connecticut (SOCT) to campus for an afternoon of hoops, competition and camaraderie.
The Second Annual Special Olympics Basketball Jamboree, which took place on February 11 at the Yarnall Athletic Center, included eight local teams from the towns of Groton, Griswold and Saybrook. Nearly 80 SOCT athletes took part in the event, and with two youth and six adult teams in attendance, ages ranged from 11 to adult.
Last year, members of the Mitchell Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) created the event as an interactive way for Special Olympics athletes to showcase their abilities while joining forces with student-athletes from Mitchell College. This year the Mariners extended an invitation to the SAACs from fellow New England Collegiate Conference schools, and each one sent a pair of members to volunteer at the event.
"The basketball jamboree is such an amazing event," said Heather Rush, Mitchell's head softball coach and liason for community service outreach. "It provides an opportunity for every athlete involved to share their love of sports and develop new friendships. It is an overwhelming feeling -- watching our athletes bond with the SOCT teams. To know we are providing a competitive, fun, memorable event, and to see everyone leave smiling, that is what makes this event so incredible."
This year's jamboree consisted of 15-minute, 5-on-5 games played in round robin format. Each SOCT team played two games at the event, and during downtime the athletes competed in shooting contests and skills competitions. NECC student-athletes volunteered to officiate the games, keep score, direct teams, run contests and pass out food.
"I think it was a very successful event because it allows us athletes to experience something new and make great friendships," said Domenico Santiago, a junior on the Mitchell men's basketball team and co-president of the SAAC. "These athletes help me look at the game of basketball from another perspective while enjoying the little things life has to offer. We saw countless laughs and smiles working these events, and we look forward to it each and every year."
The Basketball Jamboree concluded with volunteers, players and coaches sharing their experiences over a pizza dinner. All players also received a free t-shirt courtesy of Mitchell.
"Our Special Olympics basketball teams had a great time at the Basketball Jamboree," said Marc Mercadante, Senior Director for Community Impact at SOCT. "They got the chance to play some mid-season games, participate in basketball skills contests and make friends with college students from throughout New England. We greatly appreciate the efforts of the Mitchell College Athletic Department and SAAC. They treated our athletes and coaches with respect and dignity. It was a great opportunity for all."
Special Olympics Connecticut provides year-round sports training and competitions for over 14,000 athletes (individuals with intellectual disabilities) and Unified Partners (individuals without intellectual disabilities who are the athletes' teammates).
In addition to its traditional sports programs for individuals with intellectual disabilities, the Special Olympics Unified Sports® program brings athletes with and without intellectual disabilities together to play sports, gain physical fitness and develop friendships. Special Olympics Unified Sports® is offered in communities across the state, for individuals of all ages.