By Larissa Campos
Baylor students lined the walls of Russell Gym and cheered on six Special Olympics teams walking in behind their team’s banner.
To kick off the Area 12 Special Olympics basketball tournament at Baylor this weekend, the teams made a lap around the gym and enjoyed the cheers and applause from their fans before competition began.
“The opening ceremony was so cool to watch,” said Colleyville junior Kat Ludlow. “They made it kind of like the Olympics and had a torch that was passed from one team to another. It was a special moment for the athletes.”
Baylor has a Special Olympics volunteer group that puts on several events in conjunction with Area 12-Heart of Texas Special Olympics every year.
The tournament was a two-day event starting on Friday afternoon and finishing on Saturday. Dr. Margaret Wooddy, professor of health, human performance and recreation and director of human performance, was in charge of the event. With the help of student volunteers, she was able to give the athletes a weekend of competitive basketball and the chance to interact with other Special Olympic athletes from the Waco area.
Wooddy stressed how important having volunteers is. She said without people volunteering to come and help out, the event wouldn’t have even been possible. She was very thankful for the students that took time out of their busy schedules to come out and make the weekend special.
The Baylor volunteers were in charge of a variety of jobs throughout the weekend. Some helped set up and clean up the gyms before and after the event. Some worked the score tables during the games. But most of the volunteers were assigned to be fans of the teams and sit on their benches during games.
Naperville, Ill., junior Taylor Heatherly got the opportunity to spend the day with a team from Corsicana. She said that what she enjoyed most was the passion and joy that each of the athletes had throughout the tournament.
“This team was down the whole game and kept battling back,” Heatherly said. “In the end, one of the players hit a 3-point shot to win the game and the team had a huge celebration. It was so awesome to see them rally together and achieve something like they did.”
Heatherly said she was also touched by the selflessness of the athletes.
“At the end of that big game the team decided to take a picture,” Heatherly said. “One of the players said, ‘This win is for my brother. He would be here but he’s in the hospital.’ Another player said, ‘It’s like God wanted us to win.’”
Heatherly said it was worth her time to volunteer and she felt like she gained a lot from the experience. She said she was thankful for the opportunity to spend her day surrounded by such kind-hearted and spirited personalities and encouraged anyone who has the chance to volunteer at a Special Olympic event.
The weekend prior to the tournament, 16 group members participated in Waco’s third-annual Polar Plunge to raise money for the Special Olympics. All of the money raised will be used to fund sports training and competitions for the 1,050 Special Olympic athletes in the Waco area.
The group also held a bake sale Monday on campus to help raise funds for the Heart of Texas Chargers, one of the teams that participated in the basketball tournament.