Men’s basketball gives back

Nate Proell

UWO men’s basketball players pose with Special Olympics athletes in Kolf on Sunday.
[/media-credit] UWO men’s basketball players pose with Special Olympics athletes in Kolf on Sunday.

On Saturday night the UW Oshkosh men’s basketball team participated in a co-op basketball game against Special Olympics athletes for Special Olympics Wisconsin as they hosted their 41st Indoor Sports Tournament on the Oshkosh campus.

This is the third year the men’s team participated in this event. Titans head coach Pat Juckem said the feeling of being able to participate and seeing how much it means to the athletes from the tournament still feels special.

“When you see the quality of interactions and what it means to those athletes, they could have been playing with the Chicago Bulls,” Juckem said. “I think that’s how they viewed it and for our guys that’s a pretty awe-inspiring impact to have, that they look up to you and really put you on a pedestal.”

The men played two 30-minute games with the Special Olympics basketball team.

Juckem said the game is not about winning or losing; rather, it is about being able to give back, showcase unity and to have fun.

“The high fiving, putting your arm around someone or just picking somebody up when he shoots an air ball, nobody takes it too seriously,” Juckem said. “We understand the purpose and the intent of it.”

Titans junior guard Jake Laihinen said the feeling of being able to participate in something like this is great.

“It’s really fun for us and the athletes clearly enjoy it too,” Laihinen said. “It is just a great way for us to connect with them and the co-op game is a great way to do it, too. It’s a really fun experience.”

Laihinen said the Special Olympics staff tells his players to not go easy on other athletes.

“We play hard and we’re trying to showcase our skills along with them, get them open shots,” Laihinen said. “It means a lot that they really enjoy it and we’re able to make some good connections.”

Titans junior guard Charlie Noone said it is clear the Special Olympics athletes are dedicated to what they do and they enjoy being able to compete.

“I think people underestimate just how hard they work at what they do,” Noone said. “They just don’t show up and play. There’s hours and hours that go into doing what they do and it shows. Their passion is pretty unbelievable, but it’s just an awesome experience.”

Juckem said being a part of this game perfectly demonstrates the mission statement of his team, which is to be more than just an athlete.

“Part of this is us just fulfilling that mission, that our program is just not purely based on winning and losing,” Juckem said. “We want to stand for excellence just as much off the floor as we do on the floor. It’s a fulfillment of that responsibility.”

Juckem said it is his team’s responsibility to help out in the community.

“We’re pretty blessed,” Juckem said. “Our guys are talented, they’re good athletes, they’re at a good university, they have a lot of good things going on and they have a responsibility to contribute, to give back, in whatever form that may be.”

Laihinen said participating in the Special Olympics basketball game speaks volumes to how serious they take their responsibility to give back.

“That’s one of our core principals,” Laihinen said. “We’re trying to strengthen the community as a whole and as a team to help them out and it’s a good connection for us. We’re just glad they keep asking us to do it every year.”