Special Olympians Give Energy to KU Basketball at Annual Clinic
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Kansas men’s basketball used high energy in winning a tough road battle at No. 17 Texas, 75-62, Saturday, but nothing compared to the energy the Jayhawks were given by the approximately 100 Special Olympians at the 31st Annual Wilt Chamberlain Special Olympics Clinic Sunday afternoon inside historic Allen Fieldhouse.
Ten teams from Special Olympics Kansas spent more than two hours with their college hoops heroes as the goals were lowered in Allen Fieldhouse. Following a group stretch, the clinicians broke up into their teams and rotated among stations such as ball handling, layups, free throws and dunks. The clinic concluded with the Jayhawks signing autographs for the Special Olympians.
“This is one of the favorite days of the year for our players and staff,” Kansas head coach Bill Self said. “The Olympians really enjoy being here. It touches our players and our players enjoy reaching them. It’s a cool day. We’ve had this event on days following losses. We’ve had it following wins. The thing that makes it so great is it’s unconditionally loved either way.”
The annual Special Olympics clinic began in 1984 by former Kansas men’s basketball head coach Larry Brown. It was then renamed for KU legend Wilt Chamberlain, who left money from his estate to sustain the program.
“For all of us this is a lot of fun,” KU senior Christian Garrett said. “These kids have so much fun. They have a lot going against them, but they still come out here and have so much energy. It’s the best camp we do because we really see how happy these kids are.”
There were more high fives amongst the Special Olympians and Jayhawks than baskets made, but smiles, hugs and laughs definitely meant more than the score during the clinic.
“It’s always fun to give back to these guys,” KU junior Evan Manning said. “They love KU basketball and they are always energetic about coming here and playing some ball in the Filedhouse. It’s really cool to give back and have a fun-filled afternoon with them.”
Teams from all across the state of Kansas participated in the 2015 event. They included: the Douglas County Jayhawks (Lawrence), KCK Kings (Kansas City), Shawnee Storm, Topeka/Shawnee, Topeka Jr. Blues, Saline County ARC Blue Thunder (Salina), Junction City Pacesetters, Wichita Independents, Campus Colts (Haysville) and ARC of Butler Blazers (El Dorado).
“This is a fantastic opportunity for our athletes,” Clint Armistead, Director of Sports for Special Olympics Kansas said. “We’ve been doing this for 31 years, which is the longest relationship Special Olympics Kansas has held with any sporting organization. We value so much the opportunity for our athletes to play with these athletes, shake some hands, feel like a star, feel like somebody on a collegiate level. This is anybody’s dream to play at Allen Fieldhouse with the athletes. There’s a long waiting list to get in for our athletes so they are very happy to be selected.”
Armistead explained every team across the state wants to participate and Special Olympics Kansas has to move to a lottery system and team rotation to allow groups to come to the event once every four years.
No. 11 Kansas (16-3, 5-1 Big 12) sits atop the Big 12 standings and will play at TCU (14-5, 1-5) on Wednesday, Jan. 28, at 8 p.m. (Central) on ESPNU.
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