Special olympians lift men’s basketball team’s spirits

At least for one day, the Kansas Jayhawks got to enjoy goofing around in Allen Fieldhouse without the threat of losing a game or messing up a practice. But that’s also because Sunday wasn’t about the players, rather who they were playing with.

The men’s basketball team hosted the 29th Annual Wilt Chamberlain Special Olympics Clinic, and after a loss to Oklahoma State on Saturday it may have been just the afternoon the Jayhawks needed.

“We need to have a good time,” Kansas coach Bill Self announced to over 100 participants. “Because yesterday we had a bad time.”

The clinic’s beginnings go back to Larry Brown’s days as the head coach of Kansas basketball, but have since become synonymous with Chamberlain. After the former KU basketball star visited the event in the early 1990s he left money from his estate to make sure it would remain a Kansas tradition.

Each player, coach and student manager was on hand to assist with the clinic, which included various stations with demonstrations ranging from shooting to ball handling.

“It means a lot to the athletes because they’re on a rotation basis,” said Donna Zimmerman, Senior Vice President for marketing and communications for Special Olympics. “It takes awhile for them to be able to have their opportunity to be here.”

That’s no exaggeration from Zimmerman. Special Olympians hoping to run around James Naismith Court have to wait between four and five years to do so.

With room for just 100 athletes per clinic and over 93 teams in the state of Kansas, it’s an event that can’t come soon enough each season.

“These people support us,” Kansas center Jeff Withey said. “They’re at most of the games. It’s nice to show them that we care about them just like they care about us. I just hope they had a good time.”

Withey and Self also noted how the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Instead of moping around after Saturday’s 85-80 loss to Oklahoma State the team had an experience on the other side of the emotional spectrum.

For Self, it’s not the first time the Chamberlain clinic has taken place after a loss. He understands how good it can feel to get away from the noise and enjoy a day giving back to the community.

It was that notion that may have had the greatest affect. Even after a devastating loss at home, the Jayhawks were back at Allen Fieldhouse creating much more important memories.

“What it tells us about the KU players is that they realize what’s important in life,” Zimmerman said. “A win would have been great yesterday but they’re winners today by being out here and interacting with our athletes.”

Blake is a senior from Chicago, Ill., studying journalism on the news and information track. Read more from .

  • Updated Feb. 4, 2013 at 10:19 am
  • Edited by Julie Etzler