By Andrea Urban
Entirely East Lansing
The Special Olympics are coming to Michigan State this March.
Special athletes of all ages gather every Wednesday night for tournament basketball play representing a new club called MSU Special Olympics.
Michigan State special education major Jessica Osos is the reason MSU Special Olympics Club has come to be. Her passion for working with special needs students and athletes has created a new sports world for them both.
“My favorite part about basketball is helping my team. It feels good to make my team win and working together as a group,” said Erick Shadwick, a 17-year-old cognitively impaired athlete who plays on one of the teams.
Osos is working with the assistant director of MSU intramural sports, Ross Winter, to possibly have the club’s championship basketball game be played in the Breslin Student Events Center in the end of March.
“Seeing the athletes being able to bond with people their own age is huge,” says Osos. “It is all about the connections, as long as I can make one person smile that day, then I’m happy.”
For Osos to be able to bring her idea of the MSU Special Olympics Club to life, she reached out to many special athletes. She talked to the Capital Area Down Syndrome Association, posting to Facebook, contacting Special Olympics Michigan of Ingham and Eaton Counties and by working with Fourth Wall Special Needs Theatre program to find athletes who would like to participate.
The Club has about 25 special athletes participating and 35 MSU student volunteers competing with them, according to the club’s vice president, Gloria Venaziale.
Venaziale shares that she was only going to volunteer at first, but she soon realized she has to be more involved. “It is so rewarding, the athletes are always so, so happy all the time,” said Venaziale.
“I love basketball and music, both. I played in the Special Olympics a long time ago; it is fun to be playing again,” said Barry Greer, a 29-year-old athlete with Down syndrome. “They asked me to play, they asked me! I love making plays and shooting at the backboard.”
Radney, who asked for his last name to remain confidential, also is an athlete with Down syndrome. At age 17, he is one of the youngest in the club and playing like a basketball star.
He calls himself Troy from the movie “High School Musical” while telling Michigan State football player and MSU Special Olympics volunteer Taybor Pepper that he is Chad who plays Troy’s best friend in the movie.
“Basketball is fun, especially on Wednesdays! I love the drills with Taybor because we always have fun.,” said Radney.
Pepper says that he finds himself looking forward to each Wednesday so he can get back to playing basketball with the athletes. He continues to compete on a team with the club each week because he knows that the athletes are not only learning from him, but he is learning from them.
The club is funded by Special Olympics Michigan with no charge to the athletes. MSU intramural sports does reserves IM Circle’s gyms so the athletes can play free.
“I think it is really important that this club is free for the athletes, it can get very expensive for parents to offer services to their kids and we give them that for free,” said Osos.
Because the basketball teams already have athletes and volunteers, it is too late to get involved with the MSU Special Olympics club. The club will be around every semester to come with chances to sign up before their sport season begins.
Contact Jessica Osos or Gloria Venaziale on Facebook to get involved with the club in the fall.