Student-Athletes Build Relationships with Special Olympians

Feb. 26, 2010


The Kansas Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) hosted 35 Special Olympians from Lawrence and Blue Valley to cheer on the women’s basketball team on February 26. However, it was more than just about watching the game. Close to 100 student-athletes volunteered their time in an effort to further friendships and bonds with the Special Olympic athletes.

“I like interacting with them,” track and field athlete Dan Hitman said. “We have the same interests as they do; we all are athletes. It’s fun to give back to the community while having a good time.”

Many of the student-athletes, like Hitman, have volunteered at three or four Special Olympic events, and now they are starting to form lasting and memorable relationships with the Special Olympians.

Soccer player Jeannette Francia stressed that the night was about a big group of friends enjoying their time together.

“Having the opportunity to hang out with Special Olympians gives me a different perspective on life,” Francia said. “More than anything else it is great to see them having fun.”

At halftime, when a Miley Cyrus song came on the loudspeakers, many of the Special Olympians immediately started dancing and so did some of the student-athletes – with huge smiles on their faces.

“I recognized that I wasn’t as good as dancer as Kirby, a Special Olympian,” Francia explained.

Not only are the student-athletes good friends with the Special Olympians, but they are also role-models in their lives.

“What really struck me was when Michael, a Special Olympian, asked me for my autograph,” Francia said. “I sign papers and checks all the time, but I never really thought of myself as a role model. It was humbling that Special Olympians would regard me so highly.”

Student-athletes from almost every sport at KU participated and interacted with the Special Olympians, making the night even more memorable.

“I was paired up with Matt, who is 20 years old and a big fan of KU,” Hitman said. “He brought his cell phone so we took some pictures with the basketball team.”

Even though the Kansas women’s basketball team fell, 57-54, to Iowa State, it didn’t matter to the student-athletes and Special Olympians because the game gave them a chance to hang out and have fun. Matt, a Special Olympian, is even planning on coming back to watch the women play next Saturday when the take on Texas A.M to close out regular season play.