In what has become a cherished tradition, Marymount University hosted the 19th Annual Special Olympics Basketball Tournament on Sunday, April 6. Sponsored by Marymount's Office of Community Engagement, the games give teams from Special Olympics Virginia, Northern Virginia, an opportunity to compete at the regional level and to wrap up their season with a day of shared fun with college students.
The day began with the parade of athletes marching onto the Marymount quad to the strains of "Chariots of Fire" amidst the cheers of more than 130 Marymount student volunteers. Marymount President Matthew Shank welcomed the athletes, their families, and fans, saying, "Marymount is proud to have hosted this tournament for almost 20 years. It's a great competition, and we're honored and humbled to be part of it.” Commending all of the volunteers, he said, "This is a day of service and a day to enjoy."
Following the National Anthem, sung by Marymount sophomore Alyssa Gurley, Special Olympian Jan Marie Hallahan with Arlington White, led the athletes in the pledge, "Let us win, but if we cannot win, let us be brave in the attempt." With that, the games got underway in earnest!
The competition was intense. Arlington Blue parent Vicky Starr said, "My son Daniel couldn't sleep last night, he was so excited about the games. This is an invitation tournament and there are no easy wins." This proved very true as Arlington Blue won their first game in a nail biter over Paul VI, but fell during overtime in an exciting championship game.
At day’s end, the senior division championship went to the GMU Patriots, with the junior division title won by the Loudoun County Fun Bunch. In the 3-on-3 game, the Langley Lions bested Arlington Red.
Regardless of the score at the buzzer, the spirit of the Special Olympians was upbeat. Gary Underhill, the Paul VI, coach said, "It's really about enjoying the moment. This is an opportunity to be competitive and, just by playing, the players have a feeling of success. For my high school team, I hope that's something they'll remember for the rest of their life."
The players’ optimism proved infectious for all and highlighted the sense of community. The Marymount women's basketball team was on hand to cheer for all the teams. During half-times, Marymount’s Blue Crew led games, the cheerleaders ran spirited limbo competitions, and the dance team had the crowd up and dancing.
Marymount sophomore Alyssa Gurley, who is a graduate of Paul VI High School, brought a special perspective to the day. In high school, she was a peer mentor for the school’s Options Program for students with disabilities. As a Special Olympics volunteer, she reconnected with the Paul VI team, cheering on students that she had mentored.
Gurley reflected, “For me, this really brings my high school and university together. I'm so blessed to be a part of it." She summed up the sentiment of the Marymount volunteers, saying, "The games are amazing. They bring such a sense of community and family to Marymount. All the Special Olympics players have so much joy. They radiate happiness, and we feel it, too. Whether they win or lose, they’re stars."Photos Captions:Photos by Bob Brown ‘15
1. Special Olympics athlete Jan Marie Hallahan leads the Special Olympics pledge to open the tournament. Left to Right: Marymount President Matthew D. Shank, Alyssa Gurley’16, Jan Marie Hallahan, Jimmy Carroll ‘17, and MU alumnus Joe Martocci '11
2. Members of the Marymount women’s basketball team and the Paul VI pose for a photo op.
3. The Marymount cheerleaders set a high bar for the limbo competition.
4. On-court strategy during the championship game made for an overtime finale.
5. Bernie gets a bear hug from a fan while MU sophomore Kristen Ellison enjoys the moment.