by Chris Wescott || AHL On The Beat Archive
The Oklahoma City Barons have raised the bar for community involvement this season. A step in that direction was the founding of the program called “Barons Buddies” which partners the Barons with the Special Olympics Oklahoma.
Barons Buddies pairs a player or coach with an athlete and their family from Special Olympics Oklahoma. The Barons player and Special Olympics athlete participate in a series of social events over a five-month period to raise awareness about Special Olympics and lasting relationships between the Barons organization and Special Olympics Oklahoma.
The first Barons Buddies event took place on Nov. 30, when the players and athletes met each other for the first time at the home of the Barons, the Cox Convention Center. The Barons players participated in athletic events, including floor hockey and basketball.
Following the athletic events, the Barons took their Special Olympics athletes on a special tour of the locker room. Once inside the locker room, each player gave their Buddy an autographed stick and in invitation to attend the Barons game Feb. 3 against the Charlotte Checkers.
The event was a huge success.
“This event is just…very extraordinary,” Special Olympics Chairman of the Board for the state of Oklahoma Steve Carson said. “That’s because the professional athletes are right with the Special Olympics athletes. They’re partnering up, working together, sharing experiences, having a lot of fun and it’s the event of a lifetime for a lot of these kids.”
The Barons have three more events planned including a bowling event Jan. 25, a night dedicated to Special Olympics during the team’s game against Charlotte on Feb. 3 and an off-site pizza party near the end of the regular season.
“The Barons Buddies program was designed to improve the relationship between the team and select families from Special Olympics Oklahoma,” said Prodigal CEO Bob Funk Jr. “Special Olympics Oklahoma is one of our primary community initiatives for our team. This program is unique because it allows the entire team to be involved, but gives the families and individual team members an opportunity to bond with their family.”
The program has been met with open arms by the organization and members of the community.
“The smiles on the families’ faces when you see them around the players and staff say it all,” said Oklahoma City police sergeant and Special Olympics Oklahoma representative Shawn Byrne. “This is an amazing program that the Barons have created not only to interact with the athletes but also has helped raise awareness to people who may not have know how truly special our athletes are.”
The Barons will continue to raise awareness for their relationship with Special Olympics when they host the Charlotte Checkers on Feb. 3. Oklahoma City will wear a one-of-a-kind jersey that will be available for bids in a postgame auction. The jerseys will feature a unique crest design that highlights Special Olympics. Proceeds from the jersey auction will benefit Special Olympics.
“A lot of our Special Olympics athletes have been to hockey games and understand the game fairly well,” Carson said. “So being able to be this close to the players and to the coaching staff and to the administrative staff of the Barons is just a real great opportunity.”