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Millikin & Illinois Wesleyan women's basketball team up to honor Special Olympians

Herald & Review - 1/18/2018

Jan. 18--DECATUR -- At 7 p.m. the women of the Millikin and Illinois Wesleyan basketball teams were at each other's throats, throwing elbows and getting called for hard fouls.

But a little more than an hour earlier, those same players were exchanging high-fives and creating memories that could last a lifetime as they hosted a Special Olympics skills demonstration and 5-on-5 exhibition game at Millikin's Griswold Center that featured teams from Decatur, Lincoln, and Taylorville.

The partnership sprung from a long history between Millikin's coach Lori Kerans and Wesleyan's coach Mia Smith.

"Mia is a long time friend and we played high school basketball against each other, we played college basketball against each other, and we've coached against each other for a long time now," Kerans said. "I think at the core, we've got the same heart, the same commitment for doing good in our community and doing well for our student athletes."

Wesleyan also has a strong relationship with the Special Olympics in Bloomington.

"Wesleyan has always been a great partner with Special Olympics. As we were looking last summer in choosing a game, we thought this would be a wonderful opportunity to have the two teams working together," Kerans said prior to the game. "We will be battling fiercely at 7 p.m. but prior to this we can work together and enjoy and celebrate life."

Smith has a nephew with Down syndrome and who may one day be a Special Olympian.

"I've got a little nephew, his name is Carter and he comes to most of our home games," she said. "He's not very verbal but one of his first word was 'basketball' and he will be here tonight to watch the game."

She hopes her team takes away some life lessons from the event.

"I hope that they take away that love is kind," Smith said. "We're not living in a very pretty world right now so any time you can get your feet wet in any kind of this stuff is really great."

Millikin's biggest cheerleader

Forward Lauren Moses spends most of her time on the court boxing out opponents and dominating the glass for the Big Blue, but on Wednesday, she was coaching Special Olympian Parker Kilzer as he navigated the skills challenges which included dribbling, passing and shooting.

Moses, an early childhood education major, is thrilled to take part in the event. Her sister, Leyna Moses, has Down syndrome and didn't get to have these sort of events in her home of Newman, Ill.

"I absolutely love it," Lauren Moses said. "It give us student athletes an opportunity to work with other athletes and these athletes just happen to have special abilities. To me, it's just very eye opening and (overwhelming) having a sister who has special needs.

"We didn't have this type of program for her, so moving here and being able to work with the Special Olympics is just a great opportunity. It makes all of us happy to see everyone else happy. This brightens their day and they really enjoy it."

Leyna is a regular fixture at Millikin home games and is one of their biggest fans.

"It's said that people with Down syndrome bring happiness to a family and I absolutely agree with that.," Lauren Moses said. "There is so much joy surrounding her and she is Millikin's biggest cheerleader. She's here for every home game and she knows everyone on the team and their number. I'm a senior and it's going to break her heart for me to not be in sports anymore because she loves coming to our games."

Allen and Kathy Kilzer, Parker's parents, are grateful for the event and Millikin's support.

"Lori (Kerans) does a great job teaching the players on the team. She's all about building relationships with the community. She is really strong with that and has been for years and I can't say enough good things about her," Allen Kilzer said.

In her honor

When Kerans was putting together the event, she hoped to honor the recent passing of a longtime supporter of Special Olympics in Decatur.

"This year in celebration of the wonderful life of Sarah Boys, who passed away in September, we wanted to make sure we brought Special Olympics back to Millikin so we could all celebrate Sarah's life," Kerans said.

Sarah enjoyed events like the skills challenge and her father, Bill Boys, is happy to continue giving the athletes a stage to show their skills.

"(Sarah) enjoyed doing skills programs even if she didn't have too many skills herself. She enjoyed basketball especially watching it," he said. "The event gives (the athletes) a place to go, a reason to go, and an outlet to show off their skills."

The interaction between Olympian and athlete creates winners on both sides.

"I always say that I think (Millikin) gets more out of it than we give," Kerans said. "I think it is a wonderful reminder to enjoy every moment of life, to enjoy every opportunity that you are given in life and to remember it's not always about the outcome, it's really about the journey. The Special Olympics creed or motto is, 'Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt,' and I just thinks that is appropriate, not just for Special Olympic athletes, but for all athletes whether you are a college athlete, a high school athlete or a professional athlete."

mflaten@herald-review.com -- (217) 421-6968

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(c)2018 the Herald & Review (Decatur, Ill.)

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