In what’s become an annual rite of spring, the Marymount University Special Olympics Basketball Tournament took place on March 31, kicking off with the traditional parade of athletes. Marching to the strains of “Chariots of Fire,” the parade was led by Marymount President Matthew D. Shank, Marymount Chaplain Father David Sharland, Y.A., Special Olympics athlete Stacey Bullock, and MU student Maura McCandlish to the University’s quad, where the teams took the Special Olympics oath and the games were declared officially open.
Sponsored by Marymount’s Campus Ministry, the tournament is a much-anticipated competition that gives Special Olympics athletes the opportunity to show off their basketball skills in friendly rivalry at both the Senior and Junior Division levels. MU students plan and organize the event, cheer for their adopted teams, and enjoy a day of camaraderie with the athletes.
Alishiya Kapoor, an MU junior and one of the tournament’s lead organizers, said, “This is one of the biggest turnouts ever! Almost 200 students volunteered and even some neighbors who attend Mass at the Marymount chapel are helping out.”
As competition began in earnest, Dr. Shank noted that this was his first Special Olympics tournament as Marymount’s president and he found it impressive. He said, “This is a great example of Marymount’s commitment to service and to the community. I’m very proud of the student support and Campus Ministry for all the work that’s involved in making it happen. The tournament is a partnership between Marymount and Special Olympics of Northern Virginia, and this is a tradition that we will continue to grow and make stronger.”
Bernie Woolfley, the Arlington coordinator of Special Olympics, echoed Dr. Shank’s remarks, commenting that the MU tournament is one of the highlights of the Special Olympics season and it his unenviable task to rotate the regional teams each year, so that all get a chance to participate in it.
He praised Marymount, saying, “The tradition of Special Olympics is deeply rooted at the University. Many organizations help us, but year after year, Marymount executes. As students graduate and new ones come on board, all unfailingly show respect and support for the Special Olympics athletes. One of our mottoes is ‘Having a life like yours’ and I can’t tell you how much it means to our teams to spend the day with college students.”
“It’s an opportunity for them to experience what other young adults experience,” continued Woolfley. “Being cheered and coached at an athletic event gives them a chance to interact with the MU students as peers.”
As sportsmanlike as the competition was, it was intense and the championship games saw the GMU Gold Rush besting Arlington Blue for the Senior Division title, and Arlington White triumphing over the Davis Bulldogs for the Junior Division honors.
Beyond the win-loss stats, Casey and Brendan Hammeke, two sibling Special Olympics athletes, expressed the sentiments of all about the real value of the day. Casey, a member of the Fairfax Fantastics, said, “It’s fun, and I got to see a lot of friends that I don’t get to see too often.” Brendan, her brother who plays for the Fairfax Spartans, added, “Marymount is wonderful. There are lots of good people to talk to.”
As the teams, students, and family members formed a circle for the Closing Ceremonies, Father Sharland ended the day with a prayer, giving thanks for the “opportunity to compete, to work as teams, to experience fellowship and celebration, and to have this special occasion to give greater glory to God.”
1. Parade of Athletes led by Marymount President Matthew D. Shank, Marymount chaplain Father David Sharland, Y.A., Special Olympics athlete Stacey Bullock, and Marymount student Maura McCandlish
2. President Shank welcoming the Special Olympic athletes and their families
3. MU students Emma Wallace (left) and Lauren Patton (right) with their adopted team, the Davis Bulldogs
4. MU student Sara Hammett with Special Olympics athlete before the game
5. Basketball action between the Fairfax Spartans and Arlington Blue
Photos by Ryan Murphy