Sophomore Amanda Clifton said she has experienced some rough times while coaching Special Olympics sports teams.
But, even though her honors program volunteer hours are long gone, she can’t seem to stop coaching.
“It’s literally the best experience I’ve ever had in my life,” the Cass City native said. “I hope to coach Special Olympics throughout my whole time here at Central Michigan University; even during graduate school.”
Last year, Clifton was researching ways to get the required 120 volunteer hours for the CMU Honors Program and came across working for the Special Olympics.
Clifton said she has always loved sports, and with a major in physical therapy, it seemed to all tie together.
Troy sophomore Emily Herbon went with Clifton to research the Special Olympics program a year ago, and both of them instantly fell in love with coaching and working with special needs sports teams.
“They are all so genuine and just happy at all times,” Herbon said. “I can come to practice and my mood just gets so much better.”
Herbon said her adviser told her, with the classes she was taking this semester, it would be hard to find time to coach basketball for Special Olympics.
“I looked at her and basically said that’s not an option,” Herbon said. “I’m not doing this for my resume anymore; I’m doing it because I love it.”
Clifton and Herbon started out helping with track and field last year but have also helped with the soccer program and are now coaching basketball. Last spring, Clifton was the head coach of the soccer team.
“It’s a lot of planning and getting ideas,” Clifton said. “It can get complicated.”
Gail Huber, area director of Mount Pleasant’s division of Special Olympics, said it takes about 200 volunteers to put on Special Olympics events each year.
The teams are currently preparing for a tournament at Shepherd High School on Saturday against 22 other teams in the area.
Herbon said the team is prepared. Her goal is for the team to have fun, but they are also learning to work together and gain the coordination it takes to be successful on the court.
“Our goal is to get them active and give them stability,” Herbon said. “Coaching helps me take a step back and look at how to improve the team, whereas, when I played sports in high school, it was more about self-improvement.”
Clifton said the team is made up of players who have different disabilities, and each player has different levels of function.
She said some players started the season off a bit cranky or antisocial, but the improvement has been astounding to her.
“They support each other and try their hardest,” Clifton said. “That’s all I can really ask for.”
Ted Freedman is one of the players on Clifton and Hebron’s basketball team, and he said he plays basketball to have a good time.
“I like to hang out with the coaches and my friends,” Freedman said.
Another player, Terrent Falin, said he was looking forward to the tournament, but the team needed to work on its teamwork.
“We are still learning, and some of us need help with both defense and offense,” Falin said.
Clifton said the experience of coaching is humbling, and anyone who has the opportunity to get involved should give it a try.