Unified Sports hosts basketball tournament, Rowan community comes out to support Special Olympics athletes

A player puts up a shot during the Rowan Unified Sports basketball tournament in the Esbjornson Gym at Rowan University. Saturday, March 7, 2020. - Staff Photographer / Benjamin Stephens.

In an atmosphere like no other, where the crowd was just as excited as the players, the Esbjornson Gymnasium erupted in chants and applause as every player took to the floor for the Rowan Unified Sports championship basketball game earlier this month.

The nationally recognized program hosted a basketball tournament for special olympics players and two talented teams were able to make it to the finale.

While it was a hard fought tournament, every game was decisive and the crowd loved every moment of it. Every shot sent the fans into a frenzy, as they were on their feet after every play.

One could feel the atmosphere and the tense moments after every play. It was as if the crowd wanted to storm the courts after every game just to show the support they had for these athletes.

The support was emphatic and the athletes loved the spotlight. Sarah Kroger, one of the players on the winning team, was nearly at a loss for words about the support she received. But one fan in particular rose above the others for her.

“I loved hearing my dad yell [for me],” Kroger said.

While that was all Kroger could say, she made it clear how much she loved the support and hearing the crowd yell her name when she scored.

Her mother, Peg Kroger, loves what the program does for her daughter and for the community.

“It’s the best program,” she said. “It’s great for our kids, the college kids. I love the inclusion and learning about each other, and Sarah loves it.”

Sarah Kroger, who has been involved in the program for four years now, can understand and feel the love she gets from the crowd and the support she has received. Many first time athletes were shocked by how much love they received and how it made them feel.

A few athletes agreed that they felt like they were able to play better and with more confidence because of the crowd and the support.

The crowd and the players each fed off each others’ energy as the positivity in the gym grew.

“I come here to support, and it’s good when everyone’s having fun, and
everyone feels supported,” said spectator Matt Yoslov.

The games were competitive, with each team wanting to win as much as the other, making it come down to the final moments.

The Rowan Unified Program does basketball and soccer tournaments, with other events as well. The basketball tournament is the pinnacle of their events and capitalizes on the goal they’re trying to achieve.

Saturday’s success was just another example of how closely knit an environment can be when everyone comes together to support and show love for one another.

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