Let the games begin

April 27, 2010

McDaniel sophomore Katherine Restrepo gives her account of the day she spent as “buddy” to one young athlete at the recent 21st Tournament of Champions at McDaniel College.

As the Baker Memorial Chapel clock tower chimed eight times, McDaniel College student athletes ambled, one by one, into the lobby of the Gill Center. With the sun warming up the early morning and the tree buds bursting with new life, it seemed the perfect day for McDaniel College to proudly host its 21st annual Tournament of Champions.

You can watch a video about the Tournament of Champions along the left side of this Carroll County Times article.
The Gill Center lobby was packed with college athletes as we – known as the young athletes’ “buddies” – waited, somewhat anxiously, for the arrival of our individually assigned athletes. The Tournament of Champions is an event in which children with special needs participate in a variety of physical education activities and contests in the Gill Center Gymnasium. These athletes come from various Carroll County schools and beyond, ranging from elementary to high school students.

My assigned athlete first remained quiet and was not always responsive to questions or directions. As an autistic child, it was difficult for her to adapt to the gym atmosphere of a whirlwind of activities and a sea of people. However, when she found an activity that she enjoyed, she couldn’t get enough satisfaction. With a wide smile and scintillating eyes, she never grew tired of repeatedly tossing the different colored bean bags into various hula hoops. She owned the bean-bag toss station. Her aim was solid. There was no doubt she was enjoying herself to the max when she eagerly initiated a slick high-five and a fist bump.

Before the opening ceremony, everyone warmed themselves up to Wii sports video games, kicking soccer balls, shooting basketballs, spiking volleyballs, scootering around, and simply tossing balls back and forth. Once the gymnasium echoed with the sound of the Olympic theme song, “Chariots of Fire,” the glorifying atmosphere felt complete as parents waved and cheered from the bleachers – true Olympic spectators rooting for their children. Let the games begin.

Everyone’s hearts grew a little bigger and little fonder of helping the children make their big day a memorable one. It was a day in which athletes and their buddies bonded to develop new friendships. Basketball teammate Whitney Snoops happily talked about her athlete. “She was a pistol – a girl after my own heart because she kept asking me what time lunch was,” says Snoops. Her athlete was indeed a social butterfly. She had made sure to make herself acquainted with all the participating athletes.

Each year, the Tournament of Champions hosts more children from different institutions.  This year, about 76 children participated from more than 10 schools. Student directors Will Hopkins and Stephanie Hammond dedicated countless hours to making the event a success.  Hopkins, a senior Exercise Science major, said that there are not many adaptive physical education opportunities like the Tournament of Champions, which these children are able to enjoy.

“Planning this event for the past two years has been one of the greatest experiences of my life.  It’s a definite eye-opener, and not many kids can say they got a chance to hang out with college athletes,” Hopkins said. “Lots of work on everyone’s part is required. It is definitely not easy, but worth it.”

As we students, faculty, and coaches formed an exit tunnel, we couldn’t help but smile and feel the self-fulfillment and can-do spirit of the children who would soon run through and back to their lives.  Dressed in their McDaniel T-shirts – laughing and shouting as they made their way to our tunnel – these young athletes appeared not to notice that they had given us much more than we had given them.