St. Peter, Minn. – The Gustavus Adolphus Athletic Department concluded the Special Olympics winter season by hosting back-to-back area competitions on consecutive weekends in February. On Sunday, Feb. 9, Gustavus hosted the Area 9 aquatics competition at the Vic Gustafson Pool and on Sunday, Feb. 16, it held the Areas 8, 9, and 10 basketball tournament in the Lund Center Forum.
“The student-athlete involvement for Special Olympics has been tremendous,” said Assistant Athletic Director Kari Eckheart. “I have been thrilled to see all of the teams that have stepped up by volunteering their time to make these events a memorable experience for the athletes.”
At the swimming meet held in the Vic, 50 student-athletes from the Gustavus men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams were in charge of set up and take down, timing, posting results, coordinating athletes, and running the award ceremony following the competition. To go along with their meet duties, the Gustie swimmers also served as the cheer squad and rooted on the participants for the entirety of the meet.
Roughly 50 Special Olympics swimmers competed in races with distances ranging from 25 yards up to 200 yards. Aquatics, unlike other sports, is a life skill that is taught, first, to ensure safety and, secondly, for sports and competition purposes. Special Olympics aquatics covers a great variety of swimming skills, from short sprints to longer events and relays, perfect for all ages and ability levels.
“My favorite part of the day was watching swimmers receive their medals – they had the biggest smile on their faces,” said senior women’s swimmer Laura Drake (Mendota Heights, Minn.). “Another favorite memory was when Tommy Panneti swam a 25-yeard swim with one of the athletes that refused to jump in the pool.”
“The atmosphere was full of energy and excitement,” Drake continued. “Each swim was inspirational and that is why this is one of Gustavus swimming and diving team’s favorite events!”
At the Area 8, 9, and 10 basketball tournament held Sunday on four courts spanning the length of the Lund Center Forum, more than 70 student-athletes representing men’s and women’s basketball, women’s soccer, women’s hockey, softball, and baseball all volunteered their time. The Gusties assisted with setup and take down, first aid, officiating, and scoreboard operation throughout the day. The tournament consisted of 28 half court teams, 11 full court teams, and fourth unified full court teams. To go along with the team competitions, a total of 39 Special Olympics athletes participated in the individual skills competition.
A large majority of the participants in both the aquatics and basketball events were members of Leisure Education for Exceptional People, Inc. (LEEP), a non-profit, United Way supported organization based in Mankato, Minn. LEEP provides recreational and sporting opportunities for people with developmental disabilities so that they might achieve optimal levels of socialization and independence in the community.
Cate DeBates, the Program and Volunteer Coordinator at LEEP, commended the Gustavus Athletic Department on behalf of LEEP and the Special Olympics Delegation. “Thank you to the Gustavus athletic teams and other volunteers who assisted with the Aquatics and Basketball Special Olympic Area Tournaments,” said DeBates. “It is so wonderful to have a tournament so close to home with such awesome facilities. Our athletes could not compete without the help from every single volunteer. We understand how time-consuming and stressful it can be to host such an enormous event and appreciate Gustavus’s effort these events both fun and efficient.”
Gustavus will round out the 2013-14 academic school year by hosting the Special Olympics Athletics competition at the track and field complex on Sunday, May 4.