K-State students team up with Special Olympics athletes, shoot some hoops

Athletes Havenstein and Carpenter celebrate the tourney together after Havenstein's team won the overall championship. (Olivia Bergmeier | Collegian Media Group)

The Unified Basketball League, comprised of Kansas State University students and athletes from Special Olympics Kansas, excited and delighted as it played its championship basketball games Monday at 6 p.m. in the K-State Recreation Complex.

There were four teams comprised of 20 Special Olympics athletes and 12 K-State students from different majors, hometowns and backgrounds. They have been preparing for this moment for six weeks, said Krystin Guggisberg, north central regional director for Special Olympics Kansas.

Special Olympics Unified Sports is an organization that partners with universities and clubs from all over the United States to create an inclusive sports league.

Guggisberg said the purpose of Unified Sports is to limit the stereotypes surrounding intellectual disabilities and to have fun. This year, they partnered with K-State for the first time.

“I reached out to the Rec to see if that was something they were interested in,” Guggisberg said. “They said, ‘Sure,’ and together we promoted to the student body to come out and participate in Unified Sports.”

Guggisberg added that the Unified Basketball League aims for simplicity, but it still gives participants a full league experience.

We started with a scrimmage,” Guggisberg said. “We let them all practice around together, and then we put them into four teams. They played three regular season games last week, which was the first round of semi-finals, and then tonight is our championship and consolation games.”

All four teams competed Monday night in either the finals or consolation games. The Wildcats won first place in the league over the Boom, while the Retrievers beat Team Wild in the consolation game and placed third.

“It’s been a blast,” said Michael Carpenter, Special Olympics athlete and member of the Boom. “It’s been so much fun playing with … K-State students.”

Special Olympics Kansas is planning to expand on this event in the future and try to start a league for all spring intramural sports.

Chris Burt, vice president of health and community outreach for Special Olympics Kansas, stated the goals for Unified Sports.

“Hopefully, down the road, we have a state championship with all the colleges in Kansas that are participating,” Burt said. “Right now, we have three others: KU, Wichita State and Pittsburgh State.”

Burt said the Unified Basketball League was a success with the help of the K-State students and the players who signed up.

The biggest part came from the students at the university who wanted to be partners,” Burt said. “We have a great Special Olympics program here in Manhattan already that supplied all the athletes, but it was really getting the partners to come and play with the students.”