WILMINGTON — Sport has a way of bringing together persons representing all stations in life and society. The inherent joy experienced as participants in athletic competition who receive the support of others is universal.
Wilmington College’s student-athletes are embracing those sentiments as various Fightin’ Quakers sports teams have come out Friday evenings to cheer on Clinton County Special Olympics Basketball this winter.
A pair of teams from the local Nike Center — the Knights and Shooting Stars — have six home games at the College’s Fred Raizk Arena. While WC’s men’s and women’s basketball teams take to the court on winter Wednesday nights and Saturday afternoons, Friday evenings are reserved for the Knights and Stars.
For each of the teams’ home games, large contingents of Wilmington College student-athletes have joined with families and friends of the Knights and Shooting Stars in cheering on the teams, while also contributing some occasional coaching tips along with the encouragement.
The lesson is not lost on the WC groups that their passion for sport parallels many of the same common denominators as their Special Olympics counterparts. The concepts of teamwork, the role of practice, playing for each other and celebrating success know no limits of age, education or ability.
Janel Blankespoor is the adviser for the College’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, which is coordinating WC’s involvement with Special Olympics. She noted how this has become a tradition over the past several years.
“The athletes from the Nike Center, along with Clinton County Board of Developmental Disabilities, appreciate our athletic teams generating an exciting environment,” she said. “And, on the flipside, we love watching and supporting the joy and passion of those competitors.”
Following in the footsteps of what the track & field, baseball, women’s soccer, softball and men’s basketball teams provided in three previous weeks’ games, on Jan. 31 members of the men’s soccer, lacrosse, volleyball and wrestling teams were out in force cheering on the Nike Center’s teams, as well as providing such game day services as court set-up, announcing and running the game clock.
The Knights and Shooting Stars recognized some old friends and familiar faces among the soccer team’s ranks.
“We played soccer last spring with a lot of tonight’s basketball players,” said Mitch Solle, a sophomore from Huber Heights. “It’s been almost a year since we had the soccer trainings with them, yet they still recognized us and knew our names. You can tell it means the world to them, everyone being out here.”
Solle said the soccer team’s activity not only supports the Nike Center’s players, but also fosters the College students’ team-building efforts. “Being here coaching and supporting them helps create a good team chemistry for us.”
Joshua “Eddie” Adkins, the Nike Center’s integrated coordinator, is a coach for both the Knights and Stars. He said playing in a college gymnasium in front of an enthusiastic crowd that includes a “dedicated” following of WC’s student-athletes has motivated his players all season.
“A lot of times, we’ve played in small elementary school gyms with only their families there cheering. Our teams and everybody that comes here to Wilmington College loves it — even our opposition,” he said, in lauding the enthusiastic game atmosphere. “It means everything to our players; it’s what community and integration are all about.”
“I hope the College’s student-athletes take away from this experience that, in 2020, we can all live in a world of inclusion.”
Another WC soccer player, Casey Miller, a freshman from Dayton, said it was “a lot of fun” seeing how much enjoyment the players for the Knights and Stars got from the interaction with WC student-athletes in a sports setting. He also cited the valuable shared experience his team realized.
“It’s a good way for us to spend time together in the off-season,” he said. “It supports the positive environment we’re working to create for our team.”
The Knights/Shooting Stars’ two remaining home games at WC are Feb. 21 and 28, at 7 p.m.