Debut Special Olympics rivalry game spreads awareness

The Al McGuire Center hosted the first ever Special Olympics unified sports rivalry game between Marquette and UW-Madison last Friday, Feb. 12. The teams were made up of members from Special Olympics Wisconsin and students from both schools.

“The Marquette Adaptive Abilities Club recently registered as a Special Olympics college chapter, and a representative reached out to us about assisting with planning a Unified Sports Rivalry Game against UW-Madison,” said Kristen Garey in an email, liaison for Special Olympics for the Marquette Adaptive Abilities Club. Garey helped advertise, recruit Marquette students to join the basketball team and plan the event.

Brian Morgan, assistant athletics director for ticket sales and strategy, said these rivalry series with Special Olympics are becoming popular throughout many of the nation’s colleges and universities.

Garey said that the students on the basketball teams were excited from the beginning and kept their enthusiasm throughout the game. Marquette Athletics donated spirit flags to promote the event.

“The Special Olympic Athletes had everyone up on their feet before tipoff,” Garey said. “While fans supported both teams, a playful rivalry emerged as the scores narrowed.”

The final score was 39-36, Marquette.

“It was pretty intense towards the end,” Garey said.

During halftime at the Marquette women’s basketball game later that day, the Special Olympians were recognized for their efforts.

Garey said that because the club tends to tailor to students in the College of Health Sciences, they plan to work on raising students and community awareness of the mission. They aim to achieve larger attendance numbers at the game and add a panel of students to help with the Special Olympics events.

“Special Olympics has a great message to share, and our club is grateful to have had a part in this event,” Garey said.

The goal of Unified Sports is to bring Special Olympics students together and have an inclusive environment. Don Wigington, the director of Unified Sports, said on a media advisory, “Special Olympics College connects college students and individuals with intellectual disabilities through sport to build friendships and help lead the social justice movement of Special Olympics.”

This game was a trial run to see if this sort of event is something that Special Olympics could continue in the future.

“We’ll probably make it an annual event for now, so that we can grow support for it,” Garey said. The club members hope to have an event at the BMO Harris Bradley Center next year.

Morgan’s brother is a part of Special Olympics in the Manitowoc area, so this cause is close to his heart. He said that it makes him happy to see Special Olympics working with Marquette.

“(At a) men’s basketball game, we had two (Special Olympic) teams play at halftime, and the national anthem singer was a Special Olympian,” Morgan said.

Morgan said he hopes the relationships between Special Olympics and Marquette sports grow.

“Eventually with the lacrosse team and the fall sports with soccer and volleyball, we can showcase (Special Olympians) across all sports,” Morgan said.