July 21, 2004
The Right Place, the Right Students
by Brent Harris
February 28 looked like any other day in the Allen Athletics and Recreation Center. People were scattered about the facility, either playing or watching basketball games in Chadwick Court and the Knowling Fieldhouse.
Pete Wagner '06 and Scott Furnish '90 relax during the Wabash Special Olympics.
But Wabash College students werent playing the games. The students were at the scorers tables operating the clocks and scoreboards, or on the floor working as referees. On this day, Wabash students played the supporting role for another group of athletes, thanks to the efforts of Pete Wagner 06 and several other members of Sigma Chi to bring the Special Olympics to Wabash.
“We have 38 teams here today,” Scott Furnish ’90, Assistant Director of Sports Operations for Special Olympics Indiana, said during the College’s first-ever Special Olympics tournament. “That’s as many as we have at our state championships tournament. With this amazing facility and the outstanding organization that Pete and the rest of the Wabash students have provided, we’ve been able to provide an outstanding day of competition for every athlete here.”
For Wagner, the decision to host the tournament was an easy one.
“It really started last year,” said Wagner. “I was a representative to the Student Senate and had a chance to help at the Special Olympics Track and Field Meet at Crawfordsville High School. While I was at the meet I met Russ Switzer, the local Special Olympics representative. We started talking about all of the different events that Special Olympics runs, and Russ mentioned that basketball was always one of the biggest events every year. But he also told me that it’s very difficult to find a place to host the number of participants and spectators that attend the events.”
Wagner put everything together last fall. During a meeting of the Sigma Chi fraternity, the discussion turned toward community service projects.
“I realized as we were talking about various activities that the facilities at the Allen Center would provide a perfect setting for a basketball tournament for Special Olympics,” Wagner says. “I also believed it would be no problem to find the number of students and other volunteers needed to make the event a success.”
After meeting with George Perry, head soccer coach and Allen Center facilities manager, to lock down a date for the tournament, the real work began for Wagner. While Switzer handled contacting the teams and arranging the tournament brackets, Wagner and his steadily growing crew of volunteers took care of everything else.
“I kept getting a little more scared every time Russ and I would talk,” Wagner says. “We started out by planning for a group of around 150 to 200 participants. But each phone conversation started out with ‘I have three more teams that have said they’re coming to play!’ I was getting worried that we might not have enough people to pull this off.”
With five courts being used and 420 athletes participating, Wagner needed timers, scorekeepers, and referees for each floor. He also wanted to make certain that no one had to put in a full day at the venue, so he created a morning and afternoon session for the workers. That meant his project would need to draw at least 40 students—no easy task on a busy winter weekend.
“But by the time Saturday rolled around, we had over 50 people ready to work,” Wagner says. “About 80 percent of my house came out to work, along with other houses and independents all over campus. I was very proud of the turnout.”
And the day was a rousing success. Everywhere you looked there was activity. But even more importantly, there were smiles on the faces of the athletes, the fans, and the organizers. That included Wagner.
“It was a lot of hard work. But everyone was amazingly happy with the way things went. The volunteers didn’t have to work a lot of long hours, and they enjoyed interacting with the athletes.”
While the 2004 event was great, both Wagner and Furnish are already looking to the future.
“I hope we have people who are willing to take this over and make it work over the next several years,” said Wagner. “My challenge to others is to urge them to make this a yearly event. It just seems like the right thing to do.”
Furnish echoes that challenge.
“Wabash has a tremendous facility, but it also has an abundance of caring individuals who come together and support the community,” Furnish says. “I’ve seen it over and over again, not only while I was at Wabash, but over the past few years. I would love to continue to have the expertise and the energy that those volunteers bring to an event give our athletes a chance to enjoy a day like they did at the basketball tournament this year.”