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February 3, 2013
Special Olympians Bring Smiles to KU
Less than 24 hours from its first home loss since the 2011 season, the Kansas men's basketball team took the court at Allen Fieldhouse hosting the 29th Annual Wilt Chamberlain Special Olympics Clinic Sunday afternoon.
"It's always a good day," KU head coach Bill Self said of the yearly event. "It's great to have this particularly this year because we're coming off a loss. If I'm not mistaken this is not the first time this has happened; coming off a loss, and on Sunday we can re-prioritize and really do something that's cool and neat and feel good about ourselves and help some others out. I think we get as much out of it at the Special Olympians."
The Fieldhouse was set for practice and the eight goals were lowered as more than 100 Special Olympians from the state of Kansas participated in the annual event.
"This means the world to them (Special Olympians) because they have to be in a rotation basis in order to get here. They've been waiting for four to five years to be selected to participate in the event," Donna Zimmerman, senior vice president public relations and communications for Special Olympics Kansas, said. "They watch their KU Jayhawks for years and are always tickled to death when they are picked and ready to be here."
Teams from Kansas City, Kan., Junction City, Lawrence, Salina, Shawnee, and two teams from Topeka and Wichita participated this year's clinic. They stretched with the Jayhawks, worked on basketball skills and scrimmaged for approximately two hours on legendary Naismith Court. Before, during and after, the participants were able to take pictures and get autographs from the KU's nationally-ranked team and staff.
"These people definitely brighten our days and it's good to give back," KU senior Jeff Withey said. "Everybody is giving you a hug or a high five. We are really grateful for this event. These people support us and go to our games or watch us on TV and it's important for us to be here for the Special Olympics community and show them that we care about them as much as they care about us."
Two Special Olympians - Bekah Henderson and Allison Nichols of the Topeka Junior Blues - are global messengers and go around and educate Kansans about Special Olympics to organizations, clubs and groups.
"I'm so excited and I really love it," Henderson said about the event which she has attended twice.
"I'm a big fan of KU and these players are amazing," Nichols said. "My favorite player is Ben McLemore. He makes threes like no other."
The annual Special Olympics clinic began in the mid-1980's by former Kansas men's basketball head coach Larry Brown. It was then renamed for Chamberlain, who left money from his estate to sustain the program.
The Wilt Chamberlain Basketball Clinic is just one of many community service activities that the Kansas men's basketball team, coaches and staff participate in each year.