NORMAN, Okla. - Outside Lloyd Noble Center, rain clouds blanketed the sky. Inside the building, however, the mood couldn't have been any brighter.
On the morning of Tuesday, Oct. 10, some 150 Special Olympics athletes reveled in the opportunity to grace Lloyd Noble's three gym floors for instruction from OU men's basketball players and staff members.
The Special Olympics athletes and the OU instructors arrived for the annual clinic with their faces beaming. As the event wore on, the smiles only grew wider.
Coming from various points across the state - including Anadarko, Broken Arrow, Edmond, Enid, Fairview, Guthrie, Moore, Oklahoma City, Shawnee and Wynnewood - the Special Olympics crew managed to impact the OU participants probably as much as vice-versa.
The annual clinic at OU has become a popular one for the Special Olympics organization. Teri Hockett, 17th-year Special Olympics program director who works out of the Tulsa state office, said this year's event drew a lot of attention.
"We put out information on the clinic once we nailed down the date," said Hockett. "We cap participation at 150 athletes and this year we were filled up in a day and a half. Then the waiting list was three times as long as that. We could easily fill the Lloyd Noble Center (main arena) if we were able to."
Oklahoma head coach Jeff Capel said his program was more than happy to host the clinic.
"This is one of the many chances we have to give back," said OU men's basketball head coach Jeff Capel. "This event was one of those that allows our kids to see the impact they can have on someone's life. The Special Olympics kids came here and had a great time. For some of them, it may have made their day, made their month, maybe their year."
Continued Capel, "I don't ever want my players to think of themselves as just basketball players. We want to think of themselves as really talented young men who have a chance to impact this world, our society. Being in situations like this and seeing our players interact so well with the kids, there's nothing we will do this year that will be more important than spending time with the Special Olympics athletes."
Added Hockett, "Our athletes absolutely love it. For them, it's a big honor. They know that not many people get to get out there on the arena court. We really do appreciate Coach Capel, his staff and his players. The support we get here is fabulous."
As the event neared its close, OU players and staff members signed autographs for the Special Olympics athletes.
Said OU junior guard David Godbold afterwards, "I felt like I should have been the one asking for their autographs. I love this event and am already looking forward to them coming back next year."