Winter Break: A couple of weeks when most college students get the opportunity to go home, relax, and spend some time with their family and friends without the stress of unending schoolwork looming over their heads.
For college basketball student-athletes, though, winter break means something entirely different. While school may stop temporarily, basketball does not and, for them, practices and games go on.
Without classes and schoolwork, there can be some extra down time. For the Notre Dame women's basketball team, this down time is an opportunity to give back to the community that limes-out Purcell Pavilion loud and proud for every home game.
After finishing their finals week responsibilities, members of the team spent time outside of Meijer volunteering as bell ringers for the Salvation Army
Director of Women's Basketball Operations Katie Capps is new to the position at Notre Dame this year but, she understands the importance of involving student-athletes with the outside community. In fact, she did exactly that during her 11 seasons on the women's basketball staff at the University of Kansas. One of their most successful events was a clinic they held every year for local Special Olympics athletes. Knowing that it was always a hit with the women's team at KU, Capps decided to give it a shot at Notre Dame, and winter break was the perfect opportunity.
The Notre Dame team invited members of the St. Joseph County Special Olympics to showcase their skills and learn even more from the number three team in the country. Just over 50 athletes of all ages showed up, a turnout that was larger than expected for Capps and the team.
"[I was] very pleased," said Capps. "With it being the first time we have done a clinic of this type, we weren't sure what to expect. [The Special Olympics] director mentioned that he was shocked at how many came out as well, with it being a first time event."
At the beginning of the clinic, the entire Notre Dame team went through introductions. As each player said their name, they received a respectable "two claps" in unison from the Special Olympics athletes. However, the last person to introduce themselves got a roaring round of applause. That person was Hall of Fame Coach Muffet McGraw. Clearly, the Special Olympics athletes know a great coach when they see one.
Next, the participants broke up into groups and rotated between four stations, each led by different members of the Notre Dame team.
"It was a nice change of pace to be able to coach them and teach them different skills like shooting, dribbling and passing," said senior guard Michaela Mabrey. "Watching them have the biggest smiles on their faces while doing it was an amazing feeling."
Junior Forward Kristina Nelson
Senior Guard Hannah Huffman
Sophomore Forward Kathryn Westbeld
Fifth-Year Guard Maddie Cable
After the drill work came the real competition.
Of course, the main event took place on the main floor - Purcell Pavilion. The Special Olympics athletes played against one another in an intense game of 5-on-5, coached by the Notre Dame players and reffed by none other than Muffet McGraw.
While the only fans in the stands were family and friends of the Special Olympics athletes, Purcell Pavilion was by no means quiet. From yelling words of encouragement at their players to yelling, even louder, complaints at the "inexperienced" ref, the Notre Dame players fully embraced their coaching roles.
At one point, Maddie Cable did her best Muffet McGraw impersonation; the thinking-woman squat, a position that's insanely impressive given that McGraw usually does it in heels and a skirt.
Overall, the event was a success for the participants, who got the chance to have some fun and meet their local idols, and the Notre Dame team, who relished the opportunity to step away from the intensity of practice and games and have some fun with other people who also enjoy the sport.
"I absolutely loved our first annual Special Olympics clinic," said Mabrey. "I really hope that it continues in the future because it was extremely special watching both kids and adults enjoy the game of basketball the way that our team does every day."
Senior Michaela Mabrey with her new friend, Tommy
Freshman Arike Ogunbowale gives a high-five to one of her Special Olympics players at the end of the game
Hopefully, this is the beginning of a new tradition in the program that will continue for years to come.
Watch the full video recap below: