Cyclones Form Bond With Special Olympics

Peters, LeviSpecialOlympics15

Community service is a big part of the Iowa State student-athlete experience. Just ask Special Olympics Iowa.

Iowa State’s partnership with the Special Olympics Iowa has been a wonderful relationship. The Special Olympics Summer Games are annually held in Ames and Iowa State University. The athletics department embraces the opportunity to volunteer their services.

With over 2,600 athletes competing, more than 3,000 coaches/volunteers are needed to put on the event. Cyclone athletes are right there to lend a hand.

A slew of Iowa State athletes from multiple sport teams offered their time and service for the 31st Special Olympics Iowa Summer Games held last weekend on the Iowa State campus.

Iowa State men’s basketball player Naz Long was chosen as the guest of honor at the opening ceremonies where he declared the beginning of the games. He joined former Cyclone hoop stars Craig Brackins and Melvin Ejim as past keynote speakers at the opening ceremonies.

It was a special honor for the Cyclone leader on the hardwood.

“It meant a lot to me to be the honorary chair for this event (Special Olympics Iowa),” Long said. “The event was not about me, it was about the Olympians. To be able to ‘high five’ each and every athlete as they came through the tunnel and to see them so happy was truly amazing. They deserve every bit of the opportunity to compete. I love their heart and the charisma. They inspire me.”

Senior men's basketball player Naz Long gives a pep talk.

Senior men’s basketball player Naz Long gives a pep talk.

Iowa State’s commitment to Special Olympics mirrors the mission of the Big 12 Conference. Since its inception in 1996, the Big 12 Conference has proudly partnered with Special Olympics and continues to work closely with the statewide Special Olympic organizations.

Lana Voga, a member of the state board of directors for Special Olympics Iowa and past chair of the event, has witnessed a 30-year collaboration between Iowa State athletes and the Special Olympics.

It’s been a relationship where both parties truly benefit.

“You can’t really explain how the Iowa State athletes interact,” Voga said. “They get so wrapped up and so enthused, and it doesn’t matter if they are doing a sport clinic or awards. To Special Olympic athletes, Iowa State athletes are who they look up to – fellow competitors. But I also think it’s important for the Iowa State athletes, because it’s a humbling experience for them. I think they gain far more than they give.”

Iowa State linebacker Levi Peters, who enthusiastically volunteered his time at the competition, is possibly the best person to back up Voga’s comments.

Just like his “All In” attitude on the gridiron, Peters wanted to make sure he made an impact on the lives of the athletes he interacted with. Observers are still trying to figure out who had a better time: Peters or the athletes.

“It was a very rewarding experience,” Peters said. “Just seeing the excitement in their eyes when I handed them my jersey was incredible. My schedule had me listed for an hour and a half. I stayed an extra two hours because I was having so much fun. I didn’t want to leave.”

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About Mike Green

I'm in my 21st year working in the Athletics Communications office at Iowa State and in my third year as Director of Communications. My passion has always been ISU Athletics and the seed was planted by my father, Ken, who was an All-Big Eight pitcher for Iowa State in 1960. I graduated from UNI in 1993, where I was a two-year letterwinner on the golf team, and received my master's at ISU in 1997. I've covered volleyball, wrestling, baseball, golf, football and men's basketball at ISU, including 13 seasons as the men's hoops contact. It's an honor to be the football contact for Coach Campbell and the Cyclones. I've got stories to tell, and I love telling them.
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