Sonal Dhiman
Staff Writer

People misunderstand volunteering as a necessary burden, in which only the most unfruitful hours must be invested. This misconception ¬†can only be cleared if they sign themselves up for what could be the most touching experience of their lives. Volunteering in the Special Olympics Hoops held at Lorain County Community College’s Ewing Center between Feb. 27 and March 2, 2014, taught me humility, respect for labor and appreciation of the gift of life.

I signed up as a volunteer, like everyone else, to complete the requirements for a course. Ready with my form, iPod and earphones, I entered the Ewing Center on day 1 hoping that I might get lost in the crowd and never be called out for help. The moment I entered, I could feel the energy in the air, the excitement among the attendees and the never-say-never spirit of the special players.

I signed up on the computer and looked around to see who needed help. I thought I could work for a half hour and then relax. But little did I know that the spirit would get through to me and I would spend the next four days working 6 hour shifts non-stop. I started out by sorting T-shirts and towels and preparing packets for the playing teams. Inventory work was never my forte, but I just could not say no to the amazing volunteering team set up under Tom Dake, LCCC Special Olympics Hoops Committee Chairman. Dake said to me, “This experience might change you, if not a lot, at least a little.” And it did change me.

Through the four days, I met several players and their families and friends. They were all unique in their own right, but one thing common among them was their undying spirit to be happy. I realized that to be happy you just need a little bit of ‘will’, any other material pursuits will follow.

I worked as score-keeper in several games and found myself rooting for both teams. Even when I was a cheerleader in two games, I was cheering for both teams, because I realized that true sportsmanship is the way the game is played, not who scores more. I realized the meaning of true team spirit when all players, even those who were on the sidelines, cheered for their teams. And then there were the cheerleaders from schools. They were special students too, and compared to them, my cheerleading was abysmal. They embodied the spirit of the sport and the players on their team actually responded to their cheering. This was the epitome of team spirit.

I saw the games being played with an undeterred sense of mutual respect for the rules and for the players. Never once was someone unduly pushed or shoved and every time a player from one team tripped and fell, the players from the other team rushed to help. Even the referees were witness to the way the players looked out for each other.

Jeremy ‘Mad-Man’ Hudgens, Special Olympics Hoops Committee member and Program Ad-Manager, said, “The games have gone so well this year. I am so happy with the participation. Many more schools have joined in our efforts to bring the community together. We have not had a single complaint throughout the tournament. This is true sport, played for a reason and with commendable sportsman spirit.”

Tom Dake and his team took special care of all the players and volunteers despite the responsibility of organizing the games and caring for the spectators and families and school support staff.

The last day, I cheered extra loud for all the players and joined in all photographs I could have, never once saying ‘goodbye’ to anyone, because I knew I wanted to keep their smiles with me forever.

[Special Olympics Hoops is an annual sports events held at LCCC where competing basketball teams from around seven to fifteen schools for students with mental retardation or other developmental disabilities compete for a title at the state and then national level. Special Olympics is an international program of year-round sports training and athletic competition for more than one million children and adults with mental retardation.  Headquartered in Washington D.C., Special Olympics guides local, area, state, and national programs around the world.]