Students, alumnus aid Special Olympians

Five University of Wisconsin-Platteville students and an alumnus gained hands-on coaching experience with individuals with varying abilities by helping coach 30 members of three Platteville Special Olympics basketball teams, including two adult teams and one youth team.

The teams’ weekly practices, all held at Westview Elementary School in Platteville, were led by the students and UW-Platteville alumnus Doug Bradley, who graduated this past December with a Bachelor of Science in Health and Human Performance with an emphasis in physical education, a minor in health education and a concentration in adapted physical education. Bradley is a Class A volunteer and certified coach through Special Olympics. 

During practices, students led the athletes through fun basketball drills they created, shot around and talked and built relationships and rapport. During games, students served as head coaches.

Students worked with the athletes through the Region 6 Basketball of Special Olympics-Wisconsin regional tournament held March 3 in Verona, Wisconsin. In the respective divisions, the “Hillmen” placed fourth, the “Red Birds” placed second, and the “Shooters” placed first and will head to Sectionals at Stevens Point next weekend. 

UW-Platteville students assisting in the program included Matthew Fritz, Boscobel, Wisconsin; Ally Brennan, Dodgeville, Wisconsin; Rebecca Mathias, Darlington, Wisconsin; Bailey Elliot, Pecatonica, Illinois; and Anne Klein, Hinckley, Illinois. All are health and human performance majors except for Klein, who is an industrial engineering major.

Collaborative learning experience benefits all

The collaboration between UW-Platteville and Platteville Special Olympics had a positive impact on Bradley, the students and the athletes.

“Working with individuals with varying disabilities is a beneficial experience, in any setting, for those who wish to become educators,” said Bradley. “It is essential for teachers of any subject to differentiate their instruction to meet the needs of all of their students. There is no better opportunity for physical education students to gain valuable experience in working with individuals with disabilities than with Special Olympics. It is a competitive yet laid back and kind-hearted atmosphere that always welcomes assistance of any kind. It is a learning experience and position that I will cherish for the rest of my life.”

Fritz agreed, adding, “The thing that I enjoy most about Special Olympics is the togetherness of everyone. No matter the kind of day you’re having, you can always count on your athletes to pick you back up. I also enjoy going to a tournament and seeing the different athletes interact with each other and use the opportunity to build some incredible friendships. Special Olympics has impacted my life in such a positive way.”

For the athletes, it was an opportunity to learn new skills, have fun and meet new people. 

“I love that you guys come and help us out; you are great coaches,” said Laurie Johnson, of Platteville. “I’m going to miss you guys when you have to move away from college.”

“If there is anything the athletes love more than playing sports, it is visiting and meeting new people,” said Bradley. “They really enjoy getting to know you on a personal level, which allows them to feel more comfortable with you coaching them and being their leader. When I began working with Platteville Special Olympics, I truly fell in love with the athletes, and I have looked forward to every Wednesday practice since then, no matter what the sport.”

Bradley noted that Platteville Special Olympics’ Denise Jacobson, agency manager, and Caroline Van de Weil, agency treasurer, and her husband, Steve, are critical to the success of the organization. “They do an amazing job behind the scenes, while coaches often get a good share of the credit,” he said. “I appreciate them running and organizing this wonderful organization, as they’ve truly changed my life.”

Jacobson said the hands-on learning that occurs for the university students helps the team members develop the basic skills they need for their sports and improves their abilities to listen to other adults and new people in their lives.

“The energy that the students bring to the games and practices and the relationships they build with the athletes are really important to our success,” she said. “College students giving their time to work with our athletes really helps us to be able to run smaller teams and learn better skills. Without their support, we wouldn’t have the teams that we have. So, to continue to grow that relationship is really important to our organization.”

“Close connections with professors are important” 

Bradley credits close connections with his professors, especially Tim Swenson, assistant professor of adapted physical education at UW-Platteville, for providing him with the knowledge, skills and hands-on learning experiences that prepared him for his work with Special Olympics, graduate school and his future teaching career. 

“Tim is very well known in the adapted physical education field throughout the area, and his classes often involve collaboration with local schools and organizations so that his students can have real-life opportunities to work with individuals with disabilities,” said Bradley. “Thanks to Tim and Special Olympics, I decided to pursue an adaptive physical education graduate program.”

In November, Bradley was accepted into UW-La Crosse’s Master in Adapted Physical Education program – the second UW-Platteville health and human performance student in two years to be accepted into the program. He is substitute teaching locally until he begins graduate school this June. 

“Doug is an amazing person,” said Swenson. “He definitely has a passion for working with students and adults with disabilities.”

“Hands-on learning experiences are critical” 

Bradley credits the hands-on learning experiences he had at UW-Platteville for helping him develop the teaching skills he will need as a future educator.

“My classmates and I were given many opportunities to learn how to be teachers by actually being teachers,” said Bradley. “You can read as many articles and write as many lesson plans for teaching to prepare for the real deal, but nothing prepares you more than actually teaching children. The collaboration with the local school district is also extremely beneficial to those who aren’t so sure that teaching is what they want in life. I’ve heard many stories of individuals who quit teaching after one or two years, because it wasn’t what they expected. However, if you go to UW-Platteville to study any educational field, you’ll be blessed with optimal opportunities to clarify that you’re pursuing the right career.” 

“It feels like being part of a family”

When asked what he loved most about UW-Platteville, Bradley shared that it was the environment, especially within the Health and Human Performance program. 

“When you join the HHP program, it resembles joining a family,” said Bradley. “By having so many classes together with small class sizes, you really get a chance to create friendships and make real connections that can last a lifetime. Also, our amazing professors made it an extremely welcoming environment from day one. UW-Platteville and its students are extremely lucky to have such inspiring educators in the Health and Human Performance program. I am extremely grateful for the opportunities I was given at UW-Platteville.”