Missouri basketball, Special Olympics team up for national cause

Saturday, January 28, 2012 | 5:19 p.m. CST; updated 3:44 p.m. CST, Sunday, January 29, 2012
Missouri forward Ricardo Ratliffe and Texas Tech forward Jordan Tolbert jump to tip the ball at Mizzou Arena on Saturday. MU won 63-50.

COLUMBIA — The Missouri cheerleaders, Golden Girls and Truman the Tiger all wore special shirts at Saturday's Missouri men's basketball game. And they had nothing to do with DGB.

While the MU student section and much of the crowd was fawning over Dorial Green-Beckham, the top football recruit in the country, a group of people in section 117 were just enjoying the atmosphere.

They were at Mizzou Arena supporting a different cause, one that extends far beyond the basketball court and the football field. 

This week, the Big 12 Conference teamed up with Special Olympics to promote the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign to put an end to the use of the word "retarded."

"We're trying to say what it means to our guys," said Susan Shaffer, who works for Special Olympics Missouri and organizes events with MU. "It's hurtful, but a lot of times they can't express what it means to them. So, we're really their advocate, and this is a great way to do it."

Several Olympians from Special Olympics Missouri came from across the state to be on hand for the game, including Beth Brokamp, who will be recognized at the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame on Sunday. Most of them were seeing a live basketball game for the first time.

The Olympians received a standing ovation when they were recognized on the court before the game.

"I teared up," Shaffer said. "It was pretty awesome. It's just respect for our guys, and that's really what we all ask for, and it really does show that people do appreciate them."

She and others at Special Olympics Missouri are confident that this campaign can lead to change.

"The intent of the campaign isn't to make people feel guilty," said Ben Stewart, a public relations coordinator for Special Olympics Missouri. "It's just to make them think a little bit more about who's affected by the words they use. We're trying to be as positive as possible and let people change in their own time."

After being recognized, the Olympians got to be in the tunnel and get high-fives from all of the Tigers as the team ran out onto the court. They stood with their arms extended and looks of awe on their faces, then headed up to their seats and cheered Missouri to a 63-50 victory against Texas Tech.

Olympian Dakota Chettel picked a good day to wear his No. 24 Kim English jersey. English led the team with 22 points.

Missouri led for most of the game, but Texas Tech hung within striking distance until the final minute. Marcus Denmon scored 19 points, and Phil Pressey matched a career high with 12 assists in the Tigers' win.

"We played Big 12 basketball," Missouri coach Frank Haith said. "It was a hard-fought Big 12 game. I'm proud of our guys adjusting, for not getting frustrated, and that's what kind of game it was."

Throughout the game, a video of Ricardo Ratliffe explaining the Spread the Word to End the Word cause played on the scoreboard.

In addition to Truman and the cheerleaders, ushers and some players on both teams wore shirts that had logos for Special Olympics, the Big 12 Conference and the NCAA and "Partners in Life" printed on the front. On the back was the phrase "Be a Fan of Respect" surrounded by the words: passion, acceptance, unity and humanity. A few extra T-shirts were given to fans during the game.

Missouri continued to spread the word to end the word on Saturday afternoon at the women's basketball game against Oklahoma. Shaffer said that about 50 more Olympians would be on hand for that game and they would play a scrimmage at halftime.

She thinks the campaign had an impact on everyone who came to Mizzou Arena on Saturday.

"I think it's a huge impact," Shaffer said. "I don't think you can say it by percentage or a number. Today, we can touch every heart that was here."

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