Season of Giving: Bird Brings Talents to Special Olympics
LAWRENCE, Kan. – The first time she remembers hearing of the Douglas County Special Olympics (DCSO) volleyball team, Laura Kuhn wasn’t even around to watch. Yet, the Kansas volleyball assistant coach wasted no time finding a way to get involved.
Affectionately known as “Bird”, Kuhn didn’t miss the opportunity to watch the DCSO squad by choice. Rather, she was busy getting the Jayhawks prepared for set three against the top-10 Texas Longhorns. KU hosted UT for a battle for first place in the Big 12 standings in the Horejsi Family Athletics Center on Oct. 12. A big supporter of the Jayhawk volleyball program, DCSO played a mini-match during the Kansas vs. Texas intermission.
When she found out who took to the court while the Jayhawks were in the lockerroom, Bird immediately wanted to know more.
“I knew they were there playing and I didn’t even get to watch,” Bird explained. “So I emailed our marketing director to find out who I needed to talk to. Since I was little, my dad had worked at a developmental center, so this has been a part of my life. Special Olympics is something that I’ve always wanted to get involved in.”
After doing her research through the Kansas Athletics department, Bird was put in touch with Paula Warren, the director of the Douglas County Special Olympics. Aside from volleyball, the Special Olympians also participate in a multitude of sports, including bowling and basketball.
Warren was thrilled to hear of the KU coach’s interest. In her third year at Kansas, Bird has been a vital component of the Jayhawk coaching staff that guided the KU volleyball team to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments, as well as, back-to-back Big 12 Coach of the Year accolades for her boss, head coach Ray Bechard.
“To my knowledge, it’s the first time we’ve ever had a major college coach volunteer to help coach at the Douglas County Special Olympics,” Warren smiled. “And they are getting so much better.”
Warren informed Bird that the team met every Sunday afternoon at a local middle school for practice and they would love to have her input whenever available. That provided all the motivation Bird needed to fill her only off-day of the week. For the next month and a half, she was there every chance she got. With Bird’s help, the players – men and women varying in age range and experience level – not only enjoyed her company, but improved their skills each week.
In November, Bird invited her Jayhawk volleyball players to join her new crew for a Sunday practice. Watching the Jayhawks and Special Olympians work together and share what Bird had taught each of them, albeit in different settings, was nothing short of spectacular. Although Bird was uninterested in media attention, word of her involvement with the DCSO team spread and she agreed to a television interview regarding both of her teams. Well timed, the interview took place on Bird’s birthday.
Five days later, Bird made the trip to Shawnee, Kan., to coach the first two matches of the 2013 Fall Sports Classic, before rejoining the Jayhawks for practice that afternoon. Per the usual, the team cheered and rushed her with hugs when she arrived. Although the team didn’t play to Bird’s expectations, she holds them accountable for what they learned and they know she will be back next season to work on even more.
Until then, basketball season is up next for the DCSO athletes, which just so happens to be another Bird specialty.
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