Days before reigning WNBA rookie of the year Elena Delle Donne visited New Trier High School to meet with Special Olympians and their peer helpers, the challenge was made.
New Trier’s Michael Sheridan, standing 6 foot 4 inches, felt he could take the 6 foot 5 inch Delle Donne in a one-on-one basketball game. There were even rumors of some trash talk from Sheridan as Delle Donne’s Nov. 12 visit neared.
“It’s kind of true,” Sheridan said. “I thought it would be fun and a great experience. I’m excited to meet her.”
The evening’s practice with Delle Donne and the Special Olympians began with the quick pick-up game, a game Sheridan ultimately won.
“He crushed me. He beat me 2-0,” Delle Donne said. “He came right up and challenged me and I didn’t have a chance.”
After the friendly game ended Delle Donne worked with more than 100 New Trier Special Olympians and student volunteers on their shooting and passing skills, answered some questions and signed autographs for everyone in attendance.
“I couldn’t have asked for anything better,” said Kay Pothast, New Trier’s Special Olympics Sponsor. “Everyone was so excited. Everyone knew who she was, but she was one of us out on the court.”
Scott Divincenzo, 19, has been participating in the Special Olympics for five years, and was eager to work with the second overall pick of the 2013 WNBA draft.
“I was so excited,” Divincenzo said. “I love (basketball). I’m pretty good working with other students too.”
Divincenzo’s student volunteer, New Trier junior Will Finnegan, has gotten just as much out of the program as the athletes, and he said the whole school was looking forward to Delle Donne’s visit.
“He’s teaching me more than I teach him,” Finnegan said as the two worked on various drills. “There’s been a whole lot of buzz about this event for a while.”
Student volunteer Seth Fox, a New Trier senior, said he began volunteering at the urging of his mother. The experience has been so powerful for him that he now plans to pursue special education as a career after he graduates next spring.
“My mom said I should try to find something outside of athletics that I would like to do,” Fox said of his volunteer work. “It’s truly changed my life and is probably the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. I’m a senior helper at the freshman campus and I tell them to get involved in the special education program and the Special Olympics.”
Well after the work on the court had ended, Delle Donne remained busy signing autographs, posing for photos and interacting with students, their family members and New Trier staff.
The Special Olympics hold a special place in Delle Donne’s heart as her older sister Lizzie suffers from autism and cerebral palsy. She and several members of the Chicago Sky organization were happy to make the visit happen.
“I love working with the Special Olympics,” Delle Donne said. “It’s a really great experience seeing their joy as they play the game with others. Just being able to socialize while learning new basketball skills is great to see.”