Special Olympics meet lights up U during weekend meet

Tyler Rushmeyer

Cheers, smiles and excitement flowed throughout the University this past weekend as the Special Olympics descended upon campus to celebrate its 2007 Summer Games.

Thousands of athletes, coaches, volunteers and onlookers from across the state gathered at the Bierman Field to celebrate the three-day event, which ran from Thursday to Saturday.

A variety of volunteers from the athletic department made their way to the event, including the two newest coaches: football headman Tim Brewster and basketball coach Tubby Smith.

As special athletes proudly stood on the medal and ribbon podiums, coaches Brewster and Smith took time to pass out awards, shake hands and pose for pictures, giving law enforcement volunteers a break from the 90-plus degree heat.

Brewster, who attended both Thursday and Friday’s events, said the Special Olympics are an inspirational event and a great way to give something back.

“When you come out here and see the true courage displayed by these athletes, it’s truly amazing,” he said. “It’s a wonderful experience for everyone out here.”

Aside from the athletic competition, hundreds of volunteers helped entertain, hydrate and feed the thousands in attendance.

The Olympic village offered athletes and volunteers the chance to sing karaoke, dance, play a variety of games and enjoy lunches in the shade.

Christine Hostetter, a University student who has been involved with the Special Olympics for 11 years, said the whole experience is extremely valuable to the athletes, who get a chance to interact with other special athletes from across Minnesota.

She added that the athletic department’s involvement is important.

“The benefits between the special athletes and the University coaches and athletes are mutual,” she said. “There’s a lot of Gophers fans competing, so it’s a great opportunity to connect.”

Smith, who recently made a splash in Minnesota when he accepted the head basketball coaching position at the University after leaving Kentucky, attended Saturday’s events and received well-wishes and handshakes from Gophers supporters.

Smith, who appeared with his son and new assistant coach Saul Smith, said he has made involvement in the Special Olympics a priority wherever he has coached throughout his near 30-year collegiate career.

“I’ve been watching the last couple of days out my office window and I’m excited to finally get out here,” he said. “It’s been a busy summer, but obviously I’m never too busy to take part in such a great event.”

Brewster said the Special Olympics can teach Gophers athletes, especially those who volunteered at the event, many valuable lessons.

“I think seeing how hard they compete sends a message to our athletes,” he said. “This is the definition of love for what they’re doing Ö this is true competitiveness.”