Gaels Basketball Players Host Clinic for Special Olympics Athletes

 View a slideshow of this event.

Saint Mary's men and women's basketball programs took a break from their last week of training before preseason starts on Friday to do some volunteer work. The Gaels hosted a Special Olympics Skills Clinic on Sunday morning at McKeon Pavilion. The two-hour event was free and open to all ages and skill levels, and 65 participants received a free T-shirt and a ticket to the men's basketball game versus Pacific in December.

Team members also benefited.

"We have a lot of opportunities; it's good to give back to people," said redshirt senior forward Phil Benson.

The event opened with a warm-up and free shoot. Men's basketball head coach Randy Bennett welcomed the Special Olympics athletes, focusing on the clinic's motto, "Give it Your Best Shot!"

"Make sure to give it your best shot," Bennett said. "We might not win every game; we might not be the best team - but we always give it our best shot."

Following introductions of the Gael players, the clinic began and groups rotated to different stations around the gym focused on fundamental skills: shooting, rebounding, ball-handling and passing.

The Athletic Department's Justine Sgalio helped coordinate the event with Special Olympics.

"It's a good way for the team to do nice community service within the common ground of the sport," she said.

Matt Cohen, the vice president of Special Olympics Sport for Northern California and Nevada said that even though basketball is one of the most popular Special Olympic sports, clinics run by professional or collegiate teams only occur about two to three times a year. The athletes love the opportunity to train with student-athletes.

"The athletes really look up to them as heroes-like rock stars - they are almost giddy when they come in," Cohen said.

Bennett commented on the energy as well, remarking "The participants have unbelievable excitement about doing things. It's fun."

Amy Lee, a coach for the Special Olympics basketball league, came with her sister. Teams play a few scrimmages and then participate in a two-day regional tournament that includes all the teams from Contra Costa and Alameda counties.

"These clinics do a couple of things. They help build self esteem, self confidence in the athletes and it's a good warm up for our season, which starts in January," she said. "It's good way to get people thinking about our first practice."

Ramon Muniz, a participant in the clinic, is looking forward to the season.

"The coaches help us. Hayward Hurricane is going to go for first place this year," he said.

-- Caitlin Graveson '11