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K-State Today

October 17, 2013

Building relationships with local Special Olympics athletes

Submitted by Chelsea Gerber

Kansas State University athletes are building bridges with Special Olympics athletes.

As part of the summer Be the Fan program, an afternoon of a variety of activities at the K-State football training facility, 40 university athletes met with 35 Special Olympics athletes. K-State athletes developed different stations for the Special Olympics athletes to participate in, including warm-ups, passing drills and cheering on one another. These activities allowed Special Olympics athletes to learn how to build teamwork and confidence within themselves and one another.

K-State athletes also have attended some of the Special Olympics athletes' softball games and bowling tournaments to show their support and begin connecting with each other. The relationships that were made furthered the impact each athlete was able to have on one another at the training facility because of the excitement built up by getting to see each other again.

School of Leadership Studies faculty Andy Wefald, assistant professor, and Mike Finnegan, instructor, partnered with Kim Schnee in the Manhattan High School special education department, to provide the valuable learning experience for both sets of athletes.

The School of Leadership Studies continually looks for ways to embed service learning into its curriculum, and Be the Fan was the perfect outlet for students to further this learning outside of the classroom.

"I enjoyed watching the athletes’ relationship grow throughout the project, which made me excited about the bigger opportunities we can shoot for with the Special Olympics program in the future,” Wefald said.

The program was an opportunity for the K-State athletes to share their talents with and learn from the Special Olympics athletes who usually serve as some of the biggest K-State fans throughout the year.

The summer program concluded with an autograph signing. The K-State athletes brought shirts and stood in line to receive autographs from the Special Olympics athletes. 

"The overall ability of our athletes to work together increased," said Jamie Schnee, Special Olympics coach. "Our student athletes are still talking about the K-State athletes asking them for their autographs. It was the highlight of their summer."