More than 150 special needs children from across Grayson County spent Wednesday morning dribbling, passing and spot-shooting basketballs as part of Sherman Independent School District’s annual Special Olympics competition. The event was held for the first time in its history at Austin College this year. If the smiles of the participants were any indication, the nascent partnership between the educational institutions was a rousing success.
“Sherman does a local event every year, and invites all the local school districts so that they can all compete against each other,” said Katy Williams, an AC alumna who now works as a program director with Special Olympics Texas. “We partnered with (the college) for volunteers, and then we coordinated to also be able to use this facility. The great thing about this (building) is it’s a lot of space to work with and it’s a great amount of volunteers. The volunteer enthusiasm is definitely a different vibe when you’re working with college students.”
In total, more than 50 AC students spent the morning manning various activity stations, each focusing on a specific basketball skill. Near one of several jump-shooting stations, Bay Town native Andrew McMillan, a sophomore biology major, said he relished the opportunity to give back to the community.
“I like to volunteer, and I like to see other people volunteer and help out. That’s why I joined Service Station,” said McMillan, referring to Austin College’s student-led service organization. “I didn’t know the event was going to turn out this well, but it looks awesome. I think the kids get good interactions with college students — just a different view than the school they’re in all the time, which is cool. They get to be cheered on, they get awards at the end of the day, and it’s always good to encourage and to try new things.”
For people, yes, but for institutions as well. Service Center Coordinator Nancy Morgan explained that the college has long worked with Sherman ISD for January Term service projects, but never before had AC been asked to host the basketball event. Morgan said the early returns seemed to suggest the Special Olympics could find a permanent home on campus.
Danna Percell, an adaptive PE teacher with SISD, said the college facility allowed them much more room to let the children play. Most of the students were able to practice their skills in the main auditorium, while the auxiliary gym down the hall provided space for those children requiring modified competition.
“We’re getting to use both gyms at Austin College; at Sherman High we had to use the big gym and the lobby,” said Percell. “Special ed parents sometimes need some encouragement, because they think, ‘I can’t take my kid to a basketball game. They won’t know how to act.’ (This event) opens their eyes – that there are things out there; it opens parents’ eyes. That’s what Special Olympics is about, is trying to incorporate your parents and your school teachers with your kids.”
One of those parents was Tina Hill, whose son Darrell had just finished a passing drill when she was asked if they often attended events like Wednesday’s.
“We’ve been going to Special Olympics all his life,” said Hill. “I get to watch him smile, get to watch him feel good about himself. That’s all a momma really needs.”