Courtside At The Special Olympics

“I think the Special Olympics and the Olympics are actually pretty similar. We all have dreams and we all have goals. And you have to work hard to accomplish your dreams and goals.”
– Michael Phelps

When my childhood neighbor, Mark Buerger, director of communications for the Kentucky Special Olympics, asked if I would like to co-anchor the television broadcast for the finals of the Special Olympics basketball tournament, he picked the right guy.

Which is ironic since I had never broadcast a basketball game before. I’m comfortable behind a mic, so I figured there is a first time for everything.

I was lucky to be paired with a seasoned play-by-play announcer, Lachlan McLean from WHAS in Louisville, who did an incredible job of broadcasting the games and covering up my inexperience.

Along with never having broadcast a basketball game, I had never been to a Special Olympics competition before.

I’m not sure how I missed the Special Olympics. A big part of McNay Settlement Group’s work is setting up trusts for people with special needs, and I have a relative with a form of autism. Instead of skipping the Special Olympics, I should have been embracing it.

Which I will do from this point forward.

My own life was shaped by athletics. An early growth spurt allowed me to tower over my grade school classmates in sports and develop a sense of self-confidence that has carried through the rest of my life.

I was a disinterested high school student at Covington Catholic until two great history teachers, Tim Banker and Joe Hackett, who happened to be football and baseball coaches, helped me appreciate the rewards of discipline and hard work.

More than 35 years later, I count two fellow members of my high school track team as my closest friends. As noted in the book I am co-authoring with Clay Hamrick, “Life Lessons from the Golf Course,” golf has had a profound impact on this segment of my life as well.

There is camaraderie and teamwork derived from sports that is impossible to replicate in any other venue.

It was a mark of genius by Eunice Kennedy Shriver when the Special Olympics were founded in 1968 to allow people with special needs or intellectual disabilities to participate in competitive sports championships.

I watched a number of Special Olympics basketball games as I prepared for the two I broadcasted. The competitive spirit and teamwork was the same as an NCAA championship. The teams were teams in the truest sense of the word.

And the players were true athletes. I had bought into a stereotype that Special Olympics participants would not be high-level players. Nothing could be further from the truth. I saw spectacular plays and teams.

The games went televised thanks to a concept called iHigh, founded by Jim Host.

In my first book, written in 2006, I bashed on Host during a time when he had a role in Kentucky’s state government. In the years since then, I have found that he is a great businessman and even greater human being. He performs countless acts of charity, friendship and mentoring that go unnoticed in the media. He has had successful business partnerships with Al Smith and Tom Leach, both good friends. I recently gave Jim my “Life Lessons from the Lottery” book and wrote that “he was a hell of a great guy.”

With a hell of a great idea in iHigh. They broadcast high school and other sporting events that the television networks miss. Like Huffington Post and many news aggregators, the individual games on iHigh don’t have large audiences, but the overall audience is huge.

Actually, I found that the number of viewers for the Special Olympics broadcasts were big. It seemed like everywhere I turned, someone had seen the broadcasts.

Now that I have caught the Special Olympics fever, I want to do what I can to promote the program and the people involved.

Like Michael Phelps said, the Special Olympics and Olympics are very similar.

In a lot of ways, the Special Olympics may be a little more special.

Don McNay is a financial consultant and best selling author. His new book, “Life Lessons From The Golf Course,” cowritten with PGA professional Clay Hamrick, will be released April 9.