By Langston Brannon-Pugh, '15
More than 230 Special Olympics athletes, 60 coaches and chaperones from 22 teams descended upon the Albion College campus Feb. 8 as the Britons’ Student-Athlete Advisory Committee hosted a regional Special Olympics basketball tournament. In addition to playing games necessary for qualifying their teams for the Special Olympics State Games, 168 Albion College student-athletes volunteered to provide vocal support to the Special Olympians and to sign autographs.
“Working with Special Olympians reminds me of why I love the sport I play, and why I love athletics in general,” said Jalyn Ingalls, ’14, volleyball middle hitter and SAAC president. “Sometimes I get so caught up in the wins and losses, but watching them support each other and build character reminds me of what athletic competition is all about. As an Albion athlete, and I think I can speak for the majority of the athletes here on campus, [I can] say that we are so grateful to be able to compete and play our sports, and we want everyone to have that chance, and the opportunity to play in a positive atmosphere.”
The event, which was held inside Kresge Gymnasium and the Dow Recreation and Wellness Center, was the culmination of eight months of planning, according to Melissa Walton, Albion’s senior associate athletic director. “A couple hundred hours of work had been put into this. Knowing we had two sites posed the issue of having two building directors for the tournament. Jalyn managed the games at Kresge. It was a lot of pressure for her but she did an absolutely amazing job.
“A tournament of this magnitude needs 300 volunteer hours from medical staff, scoreboard and scorekeepers, and chaperones,” Walton added. “Cleaning crews, campus safety, facilities and dining services also put in a ton of hours.
“One aspect that goes overlooked is fundraising,” Walton added. “Special Olympic areas can't afford more than travel for tournaments; all of their fundraising is for state games. Therefore, we raised more than $2,000 to provide lunch and dinner for the athletes.”
While Walton and SAAC were not surprised by the number of teams entered in the tournament, the group did not expect to draw Special Olympians from as far away as Saginaw.
In continuing its support of Special Olympics, Walton and SAAC are now planning for the Special Olympics volleyball season and an April 26 tournament.
“I think this is an important relationship not only with Special Olympics Area 19 but for the students of Albion College,” Walton said. “We currently have four student-athletes who are now certified volleyball coaches because of the amount of time they have put in helping me.
“This is an amazing resource we are providing for not only them but for the Special Olympics organization,” Walton added. “I hope we have given them a positive atmosphere whenever they come to campus. We have built a great relationship with Area 19 that we now have Olympians coming to our games to cheer on our student-athletes. Two Olympians came to the volleyball team’s senior night last October to watch Jalyn at her last home game, and they presented her with flowers.”
Walton’s goal is for SAAC to host tournaments for every Area 19-sponsored sport, including soccer, swimming, flag football, poly hockey and volleyball.