This past Thursday, the Kenyon Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (KSAAC) helped host the Knox County Special Olympics (KCSO) basketball regionals, a competition between members of the KCSO’s basketball team and members of the Richland County Special Olympics team. Participants were organized into divisions based on age and ability and competed against one another in a number of skills contests. Although KSAAC has partnered with KCSO for the past decade, KSAAC co-Presidents Payton Doan ’23 and Jake Davidson ’23 noted that this was the first time since before the pandemic that the two organizations have worked together. The entire Kenyon community was invited to support the players at the event in the Lowry Center.
KCSO is a local program overseen by Special Olympics Ohio, national organizations and international organizations which aim to help local children and adults with intellectual disabilities participate in organized sports. The program currently offers practices for bowling, bocce, track and field, powerlifting and basketball. This semester, KSAAC has organized basketball practices each Thursday in the Lowry Center, where KSAAC representatives have helped lead drills for about 20 individuals with intellectual disabilities.
After practicing their skills the past several weeks, participants had the opportunity to showcase their talents and compete with and against players from a different county at the Special Olympics basketball regionals event. Participants were grouped into teams based not on their county but on their ages and abilities, meaning that they were competing both with and against new people. Each division had about four or five individuals who competed in dribbling, shooting and passing contests that were timed and scored by KSAAC members.
Davidson noted that the most rewarding part of the partnership between KSAAC and KCSO is the relationships that KSAAC representatives and the basketball players have been able to form with one another, especially after the pandemic. “One thing that’s been really great about it this year is that you’ve been able to see KSAAC athletes and some of the basketball players from Special Olympics form relationships where they’re very excited to see each other, like they give each other a hug when they see each other, which has been really great, especially because we haven’t been able to do it for awhile,” he said.
Besides this, Doan emphasized that the event also served to raise awareness of the value of recognizing the full potential of those with disabilities. “There are people with disabilities at Kenyon, but there aren’t necessarily people with severe intellectual disabilities [like] we see at the Special Olympics,” she said. “I really think it’s important that we’re breaking that stigma of not having that social connection to people like that. We’re definitely working, even if it is on a small scale, to normalize the interaction between neurotypical and non-neurotypical people.”
The basketball program has also helped strengthen the relationship between Kenyon and the local community. “The thing that’s really important is that we, as Kenyon Athletics, really want to be partners with the Knox County community and the Mount Vernon community,” Davidson said. “With that, we want to be able to use our resources that we have, such as our great athletic center, to connect the athletes that we have with the great Special Olympics athletes of this area.”
According to Doan, KCSO has invited KSAAC to help organize bowling and track and field practices in the spring. Davidson also added that KSAAC hopes to help KCSO participants become more involved in Kenyon athletics as well, such as by inviting them to home sporting events, where they can spend more time with the teams. And although these practices and competitions are organized by KSAAC, Doan emphasized that everyone is invited and encouraged to volunteer.
Talisha Beha, the service and support administrator at the Knox County Board of Developmental Disabilities, emphasized the importance of both groups reconnecting with one another after a lull brought on by the pandemic, and she expressed excitement that KSAAC and KCSO will continue to bond and connect with one another through sports. “Through this partnership, our athletes have gained so much more than honing their basketball skills. Many have found mentors and friendships among Kenyon’s student-athletes, helping them to gain confidence in themselves and engage with their community,” she wrote in an email to the Collegian.
Basketball practices will continue until March, and soon after that, practices for spring sports will begin, providing ample opportunities for athletes and non-athletes alike to become involved.
“[It] has been very great that we’ve reconnected this bond and it’s something that, as a senior, I want to have continued long after I’m gone from Kenyon, and I think that we’ve laid the groundwork for that,” Davidson said. “That’s something that I’m very proud of our group for, because it has been such a great partnership this year, and we just want to keep it going for years to come.”