NEW ULM - It was a surprise last-minute get-together, but in the end, more than 30 New Ulm Special Olympics athletes were honored Friday night on the campus of Martin Luther College prior to the school's men's basketball game with North Central College.
Ben Schone, the President of SAAC (Student-Athlete Advisory Committee) at MLC, reached out to Calvin Carlson, who has been involved with the New Ulm Special Olympics for 12 years.
"We said, 'let's do something with Special Olympics,'" Schone said. "We thought we were going to get an exhibition game going but that didn't really work out for this weekend, so we thought let's get them a good time and we decided to throw them an introduction, a recognition to get their name out there, especially on our campus because I don't think a lot of our students know that this stuff goes down."
Staff photo by Steve Muscatello
Members of the New Ulm Area Special Olympics were introduced with players from Martin Luther College and North Central College before their men’s basketball game Friday at MLC in New Ulm. Pictured are the players and coaches from Special Olympics, MLC and NCC.
Carlson has worked with many of the athletes for quite a while and has taken to coaching both softball and basketball for the New Ulm Special Olympics teams. As someone who's enjoyed sports his whole life, it made sense to give back to the sports he coaches and to the athletes who participate in them.
"I've worked in a group-home setting for a while and through work with them, I got involved with Special Olympics," Carlson said. "My biggest thing is teaching people that never played basketball how to play, and then watching them grow each year. They learn so much and when you go to these tournaments, all the players from all the different teams, they all know each other and it's kind of like a big outing for them."
Schone said that SAAC helps out with not only student athletes, but its an organization that helps with Special Olympics too. The move made sense in the end he said.
"We have UMAC [Upper Midwest Athletic Conference] SAAC meetings and we throw out a bunch of ideas," Schone said.?"One of them was to work with Special Olympics because it's a pretty cool thing and not a lot of people know about it. It's a good way for them to get involved with the community as well as us to get involved with the community."
Schone contacted Carlson earlier this week saying that the college planned to honor the Special Olympics athletes on Friday night.
"It was challenging, I found out about it before practice on Wednesday and we had to prepare them and get them ready for [Friday]," Carlson said.
"They were a little surprised and they were kind of excited," Schone said.?"It's a really neat thing and I don't think they really expected for this to happen. Especially with it being this short of notice, it kind of just happened this week. So the ability that we got this done in such a short amount of time, it was a lot of work between both parties - they put in a lot of work getting us the information and we just did the best we could."
The college honored the athletes on Friday night before the MLC men's game against North Central College. The athletes received free admission to both the women's and men's game and all of the athletes (who were dressed in full uniform) got their names announced prior to the men's game. They took the floor along with an MLC or North Central player as both colleges took part in the event.
Schone, a former MLC soccer player, said this opened his eyes to the possibility of doing this again in the future. He encourages students at MLC to get involved as often as they can.
"Working with them now just opens your eyes to all the things that you can do with them," he said. "You can help out and get involved."
There are 33 athletes in the New Ulm Special Olympics basketball program and that number has tripled since its inception about 10 years ago. The New Ulm Special Olympics teams tip off their season on Sunday.
Carlson said his team is looking forward to playing on Sunday, weather-permitting of course.
"They're looking forward to it very much," Carlson said.?"The problem is, Sunday we're supposed to have a big snow storm and they're really bummed when we had a lightning storm that cancelled their softball tournament. So now we're going through the same with basketball."
Carlson was very appreciative of MLC for reaching out to the Special Olympics community Friday night.
"We the coaches and Special Olympics committee would like to give a huge thanks to MLC for their recognition and classy act of kindness," he said.