When Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., hosted the NCAA’s Division III Final Four women’s basketball tournament, it was local Special Olympians who were the big winners.
Tournament intern Haley Stadnikia, a Calvin senior, said the Calvin tournament committee, which included Calvin’s director of athletics James Timmer, was in charge of organizing the service component of the tournament, an NCAA requirement. She worked with Timmer to plan the event, and they also called on Calvin alumnus Nick Caudle, the sports and training manager for Special Olympics Michigan: Southwest Region.
The result was a basketball clinic for Special Olympic basketball teams of Forest Hills and Sparta run by the coaches and elite players of the Final Four teams: Thomas More College, Tufts University, Montclair State University, and George Fox University. (Calvin’s women’s team made it to the Elite Eight.)
The NCAA athletes ran drills, coaching the Special Olympic athletes in dribbling and shooting. The event culminated in final scrimmages coached by the NCAA athletes. “We had an announcer, and they did cheers and made tunnels for the Special Olympians to run through,” said Stadnikia. “It was really loud and rowdy. They loved it.”
“It was fun to see the comradery start to build,” said Caudle, a member of La Grave Avenue Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids.
The Special Olympic athletes took away much more than the signed T-shirts and basketballs they received at the end of the clinic. “It’s not very often that our athletes are able to compete with some of the best teams in their sport,” Caudle added. “This was something they will never forget for the rest of their lives.”