By Ryan McPhail
Ingham County Chronicle staff writer
EAST LANSING – On Fri., Feb. 3, MSU hosted an event for the Area 8, Ingham and Eaton counties, Special Olympics team.
The event included the Young Athletes program and a pre-district basketball tournament and took place at the Intramural Sports West building with more than 170 student volunteers.
“It was rewarding to see how so little can make kids so happy,” said volunteer Marie Tashjian.
Area 8 Director, Ann Goudie said,“The venue is so important because it’s a great opportunity to get people involved and for the athletes to come into the community and showcase their talents.”
MSU has been hosting Special Olympics events on campus for more than 30 years.
“It’s a real nice experience for the athletes to come on to campus. You can see it just see the joy it brings to the athletes,” said Joel Eddy associate director of recreational sports and fitness services at MSU.
Goudie said that one of the biggest challenges for the Special Olympics is to find the money to support their program. For this year’s event, MSU provided the facilities needed, while Dean Transportation provided buses for the athletes.
Eddy said that the department enjoys supplying the rooms to host the events.
“What people don’t realize is that we do not get money from state or city government. We are 100 percent self-funded,” said Goudie.
According to the Special Olympics website, Area 8 has 1,591athletes and offers 21 sports year round.
This year, the Masters of Accounting program help provide snacks and beverages as well as the 170 volunteers.
“We’re lucky to have made this connection,” said Goudie.
Bill Popielarz, community service chair on the masters of accounting student activities board, said that he volunteered at the event last year and that motivated him to become the chair on the student activities board.
“I was amazed at the competition and how happy all of the athletes were. It was inspiring,” said Popielarz.
The event began at 8:30 a.m. with children ages 2 to 7 with intellectual disabilities are working on motor skill development.
Before the pre-district basketball tournament, Tom Izzo, head coach of the MSU’s men’s basketball team spoke to the athletes at the event.
“His message was play hard, be good sports and have fun,” said Meredith DiMaria, the sports programming chair for Area 8 Special Olympics.
The 32-team basketball tournament ran from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Most teams were from Ingham and Eaton counties, but teams from Alma, Grand Rapids and Mount Pleasant also participated.
“The kids just love coming to MSU and playing in the big gym,” said DiMaria.
Goudie said the tournament allowed for teams to play two of their required three games to be eligible to play in the district tournament in March.
Area 8 will be hosting the Ingham County track and field event at MSU on Fri., May 11.
Goudie said that the Special Olympics is always looking for volunteers and encourages students to get involved whether at school or when they are back home for the summer.
To sign up to volunteer, visit the Special Olympics website
and register to volunteer in the county you would like to as well as the events.
“It opened my eyes and showed how so little can help so much,” said Tashjian.