By Mark DeHaan
For 30 years, the Southwest Michigan Special Olympics Spring Games have been held at Calvin College. On May 3, over 950 individuals that included volunteers, Special Olympic athletes, and coaches made the 2014 Spring Games one of the most successful ever.
Special Olympic athletes came from 13 different counties throughout southwest Michigan to participate in 14 events; mini-javelin, bocce ball, wheelchair races, and aquatics among them. Over 530 Special Olympians participated, nearly 100 more than 2013.
"We really enjoy utilizing Calvin for this event not only because of the beautiful facilities Calvin has, but most importantly because of the people we work with, both staff and students alike," said Nick Caudle, a 2007 graduate of Calvin who works for Special Olympics of Michigan. "The Calvin students who act as chaperones for our athletes do a great job and really make the day special for the athletes and I think it shows just how special the Calvin student body is."
Over 125 Calvin varsity student-athletes volunteered their time at the Spring Games. Student-athletes could either choose to chaperone an athlete or work at a specific event. Jordan Brink, a junior guard for the men's basketball team, was one of a few members of the men's basketball team that worked at the mini-javelin station for the day.
"The cool part about spending the day at a station is the opportunity you have to meet and interact with so many different participants," said Brink.
Calvin athletic administrators say it gives the student-athletes a time to reflect on not only their God-given talents but also the talents of the Special Olympians, as well as what sport events are meant to be.
"In the Special Olympics, we see the purity in competition, where they're striving to do their best then let it go. A lot of the time we struggle with understanding sports within context of larger things," said Dr. Jim Timmer, Jr., director of men's athletics. "I think this provides a time for our student athletes to be very thankful. First because of the opportunities and gifts God gave them, but also to appreciate the gifts God gave the Special Olympic athletes. They're different gifts, but no less valuable."
Calvin athletes will be just a fraction out of the 170,000 Division III athletes that participate in Special Olympics this year. In 2011, NCAA Division III became an official partner of the Special Olympics.
"We agree with the NCAA that the partnership with Special Olympics is a really wonderful opportunity to give back to the sport, whether it's your particular area or not – just to give back to the community," said Dr. Nancy Meyer, director of women's athletics. "It's really fun for us to see our athletes show that kindness and show support, enthusiasm, and to take real joy for the individuals that are participating."
For Brink and other Calvin student-athletes, the takeaway from the event was the reason why sports can be so important within community.
"For me, the Special Olympics are a great reminder of what sport is all about and why I am passionate about it," said Brink. "Sport is something that brings people together and it has the ability to build bridges between people that can be totally different."