Courtesy of Dominican University
RIVER FOREST, Ill. -- The Dominican University department of athletics celebrated the NCAA Division III partnership with Special Olympics for a pair of basketball games prior to the university's Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference (NACC) men's and women's basketball doubleheader against Marian University on Saturday.
"This has become one of the highlights of the year for our student-athletes," commented Gabby Johnson, Dominican's head women's basketball coach. Johnson helped organize the annual celebration when she came to Dominican prior to the 2012-2013 season. "As the program has grown over the years, so has the anticipation from our student-athletes. They really do a fantastic job making all of the athletes feel welcome and their energy helps add to the excitement the Special Olympics athletes have when they play on our court."
The day began with a game featuring 17 athletes from Community High School District 99, as Downers Grove North battled Downers Grove South. Following that game, 19 Special Olympic athletes from Glenbard South and Glenbard East met on the court, including Alex LaVere, brother of Dominican University sophomore guard Nick LaVere.
"It means the world to me that Alex and his teammates got a chance to play at my school in front of the hundreds of student-athletes, parents and fans that were there to support the day," commented Nick following the day's events. "I think it was a great experience for everyone involved. My brother was smiling from the moment he stepped on the court hearing his name announced. Most of my teammates and Dominican's student-athletes have not had the opportunity to see how fun and exciting these games can be. Their enthusiasm helped add to the excitement the athletes already had coming into the games."
Following the Special Olympics games, Dominican University's department of athletics treated the athletes and their families to pizza and refreshments before Dominican's men's basketball game tipped off at 2:00 p.m. With Alex and brother Frankie LaVere, who also coaches with the Glenbard South squad, in the stands, Nick logged 23 minutes in his 13th start of the season, scoring two points and pulling down four rebounds.
"That was just awesome," said Frankie on Twitter. "I got to watch both of my little brothers play on the same day. I'm proud of both of them. Thanks to Dominican for making this happen."
Following the men's game, Dominican's women's basketball team went on to top Marian University, 61-54, to secure its 11th win of the season—the first time the Stars have reached 11 wins since 2012 and just the fourth time since joining the NCAA Division III ranks in 2000.
"The event gets bigger and better each year," said Johnson. "Four games in one day makes for a long day but it is worth every minute. Our students have embraced the Division III partnership with Special Olympics and look forward to many more events to come as we continue to work with Special Olympics Illinois."
The Dominican athletics Special Olympics event began in February 2013, inviting members of Special Olympics Illinois to come watch the Stars basketball teams in action. In 2017, Johnson worked to bring in the District 99 basketball teams for the first Special Olympics basketball game in the Igini Sports Forum. This year, the program again expanded, adding the teams from the Glenbard school district.