During the months of January and February, the stands in Hermann court are typically full on Friday evenings. But as people may ask, Wilmington College plays its Ohio Athletic Conference games on Wednesdays and Saturdays. So how is Hermann Court filled on that day? The answer is one of the most rewarding partnerships the athletics department has – with the Clinton County Board of Developmental Disabilities.
The Knights, Clinton County's team, plays its home games at Fred Raizk Arena in Hermann Court. The Community Integration Coordinator and Special Olympics Coordinator for the county, Josh "Eddie" Adkins, serves as the team's head coach. He believes that Wilmington College, with both its basketball arena and the atmosphere created by its student-athletes, provides his and other teams' Special Olympics athletes a rewarding experience.
"Playing basketball games at Hermann Court is amazing by itself," Adkins said. "When you combine the support, energy and kindness that everyone involved with Wilmington provides, it takes the experience to a whole new level. Other Special Olympics coordinators call me often wanting to schedule a game there."
The event would not go one every Friday without the help of Wilmington's Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC). The College's SAAC is in charge of staffing the event which includes scoreboard operators, a public address announcer and a DJ to run both the national anthem and music throughout the game. This year's SAAC president, senior women's soccer player Kaitlin Evans, believes the partnership is one of the best ways for the College to connect with the surrounding community.
"It was great seeing the joy the Special Olympics athletes get out of competing with one other," Evans said. "The way our athletic teams came out to support them each week was amazing."
Each week, SAAC assigned two varsity teams to work the event. After the men's basketball team worked its game, one member, senior Andrew Russell, came back to nearly every game despite balancing a full academic load.
"Hosting the Special Olympics events is such an honor because we get to create the feelings for them that we, as Wilmington student-athletes have each time we compete," Russell said. "It gives us a chance to step back and realize that what we do really does make an impact on people's lives."
Along with experiencing a game-like atmosphere, many of the Special Olympics athletes got to know Wilmington student-athletes that were either working the game or present in attendance as fans. The Shooting Stars cheerleaders, who performed at halftime of each game, were joined by Special Olympics athletes and Wilmington student-athletes to perform the "Cupid Shuffle" and the "Cha Cha Slide".
"Wilmington student-athletes probably don't know the profound impact their conversations with our cheerleaders and athletes are," Adkins said. "All throughout our season I would hear from my players about people they met while playing at Hermann Court."
The impact of the partnership could arguably have been greater on Wilmington's student-athletes according to swimmer and SAAC Vice President Kadie Grundy. According to the sophomore, it's a privilege for all Wilmington student-athletes to work those games.
"I saw nothing but smiles from everyone present while those games were going on every Friday," Grundy said. "It was incredibly heartwarming to see the connections being made between athletes. I'm excited to have this partnership with the Special Olympics teams here in Clinton County and to continue shine the light on these amazing people in the upcoming years."
Grundy isn't the only one that would like to see the partnership continue. Adkins hopes it develops into the future as well.
"Wilmington College has been a great friend to the Clinton County Board of DD and Clinton County Special Olympics," said Adkins. "We are so thankful for that and do not take it for granted."