Yale Women's Basketball To Host Special Olympics Night

The Yale women's basketball huddle. (photo by Sam Rubin '95, Yale Sports Publicity)
The Yale women's basketball huddle. (photo by Sam Rubin '95, Yale Sports Publicity)

Halftime Ceremony, Game To Highlight Evening's Events During Saturday's Game vs. Harvard

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — The Yale University Women's Basketball Team will welcome Special Olympics Connecticut and its Unified Sports® athletes from local high schools to the John J. Lee Amphitheater on Saturday, Feb. 8, for Special Olympics Night. During halftime of the Bulldogs' game against rival Harvard, Special Olympics Connecticut will honor recipients of its President's Award and its Unified Sports® athletes will take part in a basketball game.

This year's event is the second year that the Bulldogs have hosted Special Olympics night. This season both the Yale and Harvard women's basketball teams will show their support of Special Olympics by wearing t-shirts during warm-ups to participate in the "Spread The Word To End The Word" campaign.

"Last year's event was successful and we really thought it was a great event, so we wanted to make it an annual event and continue to grow it," said Joel E. Smilow, Class of 1954, head coach Chris Gobrecht. "Harvard will be involved this year and join us in showing support by wearing t-shirts in warm-ups that champion the campaign to 'Spread the Word to End the Word.' It is a cause close to not only my heart, but also [Harvard head coach] Kathy Delaney-Smith's heart and we share a common love for the cause."

During a special halftime ceremony, Special Olympics Connecticut will honor three individuals with President's Awards for their outstanding contributions to Special Olympics. Following the ceremony, Special Olympics athletes will participate in an abbreviated basketball game. The teams will be made up of athletes from the Special Olympics' Unified Sports® program's at a pair of New Haven high schools; Hillhouse High School and Wilbur Cross High School.

This year's President's Award honorees will include Mike Savage, Bob Gobrecht and Jonathan Capone.

Savage is the former President of the Connecticut Association of Schools/Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, who 23 years ago, worked with Special Olympics Connecticut President Beau Doherty to forge the first partnership between a Special Olympics state program and an interscholastic sports organization. This partnership led to the development and introduction of the Special Olympics Unified Sports® program in Connecticut schools to provide athletes with and without intellectual disabilities opportunities to play sports together. The initiative began with eight high school basketball teams and has grown to more than 190 schools across Connecticut offering Special Olympics Unified Sports® to students at all levels. The program provides inclusive sports training and competition to athletes of all abilities, positively impacts school climate and encourages acceptance and respect for all, on and off the playing field. There are presently 21 states working to emulate this partnership.

The Special Olympics Connecticut/CIAC school-based Unified Sports® program that Savage helped form was featured on the cover of the Hartford Courant Sunday edition in June of 2013, in recognition of its influence on the National High School Sports Federation, Special Olympics International and Project UNIFY®, a grant that provides funding to broaden the reach of the Unified Sports® program.

Gobrecht, Yale head coach Chris Gobrecht's husband, is currently the Managing Director of Special Olympics North America. In his role, Gobrecht supports inclusive sports initiatives and healthy athletes programming throughout the United States, Canada and the Caribbean. He was instrumental in creating the first Special Olympics USA Games to provide athletes the opportunity to compete with their peers across the country. This June, 76 athletes and Unified Sports® partners and 22 coaches from Connecticut will compete in the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games in the Princeton, N.J.-area.

During his tenure, Gobrecht has helped achieve strong and significant growth of new athletes in his region and in the number of participants in Special Olympics Unified Sports® nationwide. Additionally, he has been an influential and impactful supporter of Special Olympics Connecticut and the Special Olympics movement, overall, helping the organization gain momentum and earn national recognition and accolades.

Capone is Coordinator Health, Physical Education and Athletics at West Haven High School and a dedicated proponent of the Special Olympics Unified Sports® program. In addition to his athletic director responsibilities and leading the Special Olympics Unified Sports® program at West Haven High School, Capone has become the SCC League Unified Sports® Coordinator for Special Olympics and the CIAC.

Capone organizes and oversees major Special Olympics Unified Sports® events, including bowling tournaments and the SCC track and field meet at West Haven in the spring. He recently hosted a Special Olympics Unified Sports® basketball tournament that included 14 high schools and more than 300 students at the Floyd Little Athletic Center in New Haven. In addition to lining up the schools that participate, he arranges for officials, refreshments, medals and media coverage to ensure the event is successful and impactful. He also serves as the event announcer – energizing the players and earning their respect and admiration. Capone received the Michael's Cup Unified Sports® Athletic Director's Award in 2011.

The Yale-Harvard game will tip-off at 7 p.m. at the John J. Lee Amphitheater. Tickets for the game are available by contacting the Yale ticket office at (203) 432-1400.

About Special Olympics Connecticut

The mission of Special Olympics is to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community. (www.soct.org)

More about Special Olympics Unified Sports®

Special Olympics Unified Sports® is an inclusive athletic program that began in 1992 and is currently offered in 192 schools across the state of Connecticut through Special Olympics' partnership with the Connecticut Association of Schools and Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CAS/CIAC).

Special Olympics Unified Sports® provides a forum for positive social interaction and brings athletes with and without intellectual disabilities together to play sports, gain physical fitness and establish meaningful friendships, both on and off the field. In addition, Unified Sports® leads to improved self-esteem and positive changes in attitude, behavior and performance.

Special Olympics Unified Sports® events are organized throughout the year for elementary-, middle- and high-school students in sports including soccer, basketball, volleyball, bowling and track. Additionally, Unified Sports® is offered as a community-based program for participants of all ages, and uses sports to ensure those with disabilities have the same opportunities as other members of society. (www.casciac.org/ciacunifiedsports.shtml)

Year-round Sponsors of the Special Olympics Connecticut-CAS/CIAC Unified Sports® Program include Team ESPN, Bob's Stores, Campus Customs/Cymplify, Hoffman Auto Group and ConnectiCare.

Partner Sponsors

Adams Hometown Markets/IGA Hometown Supermarkets, Connecticut Light & Power/Yankee Gas/Western Massachusetts Electric (Northeast Utilities Companies), Law Enforcement Torch Run, NBC Connecticut, TD Bank, United Technologies and WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment). Year-Round Suppliers: Dunkin' Donuts, Adams Hometown Markets/IGA Hometown Supermarkets, The Coca-Cola Bottling Company of New England, Crystal Rock Water and Coffee Company, Graebel Van Lines, Guida's Milk and Ice Cream, Marcus Communications, State of Connecticut Judicial Branch Community Service, Worx Branding & Advertising and Lamar Outdoor Advertising. To find out more, visit soct.org, call 203-230-1201 or email specialolympicsct@soct.org.

Report filed by Jeff Mead, Yale Sports Publicity