We were emailed by one of the Special Olympics people that WNBA star player and Wilmington native Elena Delle Donne was doing a girls basketball academy on that Sunday, and that there were a few spots being given to Special Olympics athletes, and would Julia like to take part. Of course we said yes.
The session was 4 hours of drills and instruction at the Tatnall School in north Wilmington. Approximately 60 very talented basketball girls of middle school and high school age took part. The girls were divided into two large teams, with each large team subdivided into three smaller teams (a total of 6). Many of the drills were conducted in the form of relay races and competitions between the 6 smaller teams. The Special Olympics athletes were divided among the teams, and took part in all the drills with as little accommodation as possible; our athletes were integrated into everything that was going on. It was very gratifying that most of the typical athletes were very supportive and helpful, with only a few minor bits of obvious frustration at those who couldn't really keep up.
|Delle Donne Academy - Drills|
As for Elena Delle Donne, I couldn't be more appreciative and impressed with this young woman. Read the linked Wikipedia entry if interested, as her story is an interesting one. The short version is that she was one of the top women's basketball recruits in the country coming out of high school in Wilmington. She got a full scholarship to UConn, but bailed on that out of the desire to stay home and be near her family, particularly her handicapped sister. She ended up being a star at the University of Delaware, was drafted second overall into the WNBA, and was WNBA rookie of the year. She's 25 years old now, and plays for the Chicago Sky.
Besides for all the athletic stardom, Elena couldn't have been nicer at this session. She ran the entire session (with help from some friends, apparently including some who were teammates in college). She also really paid attention to the Special Olympics athletes. Each of the 6 or 7 that were there got at least 5-10 minutes of individual attention from Elena while drills were going on, and she was wonderful with them. At one point Julia came off the floor and stood beside me, overloaded from all the activity going on. Elena saw her, came over, and asked if Julia was OK. I said, sure, she just needs a moment to regroup. Elena smiled and asked if Julia would like to help her coach while she was resting. Julia loved the idea, and spent the next 10 minutes in the center of the floor with Elena while she ran drills. It was very cute; Julia at 5 foot 2 inches standing next to Elena at 6 foot 5 inches. The first time Elena blew her whistle, Julia jumped and covered her ears. Elena noticed, and after that each time Elena was about to blow the whistle, she would tap Julia on the shoulder, Julia would cover her ears, and she would whistle when Julia was ready. Very cute.
|Julia assistant coaching|
It was a long day for Julia - 4 hours of physical activity is an awful lot for her, but she liked it very much. Julia loves being a part of things, and this was certainly a special event.
|5 foot 2 inches, and 6 foot 5.|
Thanks to Elena Delle Donne, the other coaches and athletes, and the Special Olympics folks for getting Julia involved.