Wooster Hosts Annual Special Olympics Basketball Tournament

Langston Hood, Senior Sports Writer
The College ’s Student Athlete Advisory Committee hosted the North East Ohio Special Olympics Basketball Tournament (Photo Courtesy: Langston Hood ’23).

The College of Wooster’s Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) hosted the Northeast Ohio Special Olympics Regional Basketball Tournament on Jan. 28 and 29. This tournament was a massive undertaking, as the Scot Center was teeming with athletes, supporters and coaches vying for a chance to advance to the Ohio Special Olympics State Championship Tournament. Saturday would serve as the precursor to championship on Sunday, with every team participating in the single elimination tournament. Competition was fierce across all four divisions with a regional title on the line. 

Nearly every playing surface in the Scot Center was consumed by the tournament, as there were games underway on four courts, with the skills competition absorbing a fifth. Each and every athlete was grateful to be there, and SAAC was equally as grateful. This event was one that SAAC advisor and athletic trainer, Rachel Novario, had been looking to put on for quite some time now. Just last year, all the plans were in place, but COVID-19 reared its ugly head yet again and the tournament was canceled just days before it was set to take place. When reached for comment, Novario had the following to say, “Hosting this tournament was one of the highlights of my career at Wooster. Seeing how excited the athletes were to participate in games, support their teammates and show off their medals from skills competitions made all the time spent planning the event worth it.”

The passion and pride that each team played with was evident: scenes of emotion were plentiful as players took the court alongside their friends to play the game that they loved and appreciated so greatly. Additionally, the support that each team garnered was truly a spectacle as fans from all over Northeast Ohio and beyond searched for their loved ones in the frenzied environment that quickly enthralled the lobby and hallways of the Scot Center. The Northeast Ohio region spans 22 counties, and it felt like all 22 were represented in the massive swarm that populated the courts and sidelines on Saturday. 

Saturday’s first games tipped off at 9 a.m., as all four games began almost simultaneously and action ran nearly nonstop until the last games, which tipped off at 3 p.m., came to a close. When the final whistles blew and the dust settled, the four championship matchups had been determined and the next day would see four Regional Champions named. 

Sunday’s games were all played in the Timken Gymnasium and each player had the opportunity to grace the hallowed floor that is home to a plethora of collegiate basketball history. The teams took full advantage of the opportunity as all eyes were locked on the championship floor to watch each of the four games play out one by one, with no other competitions distracting from the main floor. The final game of the day saw the Rockets win in commanding fashion much to the delight of their full cheerleading squad and loyal supporters. 

As the competition wrapped up, members of SAAC were able to reflect on the success of the event as a whole and their goals finally coming to fruition following the disappointment of last year’s cancellation. SAAC Vice President Zöe Semersky ’23, said, “We’ve been working on putting on a Special Olympics Ohio event for two years! I’m glad it came together; it was a rewarding experience.” The Special Olympics are an often overlooked organization that helps provide a lifetime of opportunities to athletes of all ages through the power of sport, and Novario echoed her desire to help this mission in whatever way possible. She went on to say, “I am so thankful for many student-athletes and community members that volunteered their time and helped to make this event a huge success. SAAC is looking forward to continuing our relationship with Special Olympics and hosting more events in the future!” 

The tournament would not have been possible without the immense help of countless volunteers, many of whom had nothing but positive things to say about the tournament. Jack Donahue ’24 said, “My favorite part of volunteering at the Special Olympics tournament was seeing how appreciative everyone was to take part in this event. There was a great spirit of competition at the tournament for those who might not otherwise get to experience this.”

Aly Brugh ’24, the student lead on the event, emphasized the impact the tournament had on her, “The Special Olympics event was an experience I’ll never forget. To see these athletes’ talent, teamwork, sportsmanship and passion for the game inspired me to be a better teammate, a better player and a better person!” 

Coco Rodriguez ’26 volunteered as a member of the health promotion team and she reported, “My favorite part of volunteering at the Special Olympics basketball tournament was being able to interact and have really nice conversations with a lot of the competitors”.

For both SAAC and Wooster Athletics, the event served as a tangible example of the impact that Wooster hopes to have on the community as a pillar of not only athletic excellence, but giving back and paying it forward. Being a contributing member of the larger community is a never-ending goal and the tournament was just one step in a much larger, more comprehensive attempt to improve the lives of those inside and outside of Wooster. 

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