Special Olympics return to UWO

Bailey McClellan, News Writer

The Special Olympics Wisconsin State Indoor Sports Tournament is returning to UW Oshkosh Saturday and Sunday at Kolf Sports Center, this time with some new changes in store.

The annual basketball tournament, which has been held at UWO for 35 consecutive year, will host more than 600 athletes from across the state.

One of the changes to this year’s tournament will be the addition of Unified teams, which join athletes with and without intellectual disabilities, in the new Unified 3v3 Basketball Competition. The competition will take place Saturday 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. in Albee Hall.

Tournament director, Mark Wolfgram said the new Unified Competition provides more athletes with the opportunity to compete.

“This is our first, and we’re really excited about that,” Wolfgram said. “We have eight teams that will be participating in these 3v3 Unified, so we’re real excited. We’re hoping to grow that each year. It seems it’s a nice alternative, especially for those programs that may not have enough players to put together a five-a-side team. This gives them an opportunity to compete as well.”

The tournament will also take on a round-robin format, meaning each team will now get to play three games within their division instead of two. This tournament will run from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday in Kolf Sports Center.

Wolfgram said SOWI decided to make the switch in order to maximize the amount of time on court for each player and to give a better idea of where each team ranks.

“In the past, they played two games, but there’s always like, ‘Well, we never got to play that team. I know we’re better than they are, and we never got the place,’” Wolfgram said. “So we decided that, if the opportunity occurred or we had the opportunity, everyone gets to play everyone in the division so you have a true champion within your group, and it also gives the opportunity to play three games.”

This years Team Wisconsin, which will be competing at this summer’s 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle, will take the court in an exhibition game 8 p.m. Saturday in Kolf’s upper gym.

Gruenhagen Conference Center Director Marc Nylen said the event brings over 1,300 people to campus throughout the weekend.

“Only a portion [of visitors] are athletes and coaches,” Nylen said. “But nonetheless you have the supporting cast, so all of the Special Olympics staff and then friends and family. And then when you throw in the volunteers, it really gets to that 1,300.”

Adam Rich, who has served as a volunteer for the event nine times, said the best part about volunteering is getting to interact with the athletes.

“The last few years, we made a poster that said, ‘Can I Have Your Autograph?’” Rich said. “Before and after games, we’d ask the athletes for their autographs. I still have a shirt from a few years ago with a bunch of autographs on it. Many of the athletes seemed to get a thrill out of that. The athletes always made the day so special for myself and those I was volunteering with, so we tried to do everything in our power to repay them providing them with a great experience as well.”

Nylen said over the years, the Special Olympics crew has come to form a close bond with the UWO community.

“I actually wish they were here longer,” Nylen said. “Some of our groups are here up to a week, so we really get to know them. In this case, they’ve been with us for over 40 years. They’re not borrowing the space; they’re just coming back home to use the space year after year.”

Online registration to volunteer for the Indoor Sports Tournament ends Wednesday, but those interested can still register on-site during the event.