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What began as a “We should do that” type of moment in the summer of 2011 turned into one of the most memorable and moving activities between a sports franchise and community partner in Oklahoma City. The Barons Buddies Program paired members of the Oklahoma City Barons hockey team with select athletes and their families from Special Olympics Oklahoma. The season-long activity included a tour of the Barons locker room, a bowling activity, a hockey game and an end of season pizza party.
The Barons Buddies Program utilized an existing relationship with Special Olympics Oklahoma, acommunity partner of the Oklahoma City Barons. The Barons are active members of the community, but have three season-long commitments to different community partners within the Oklahoma City Metro area. While working with every member of the community is important, partnering with three allows the Barons to commit their personnel and resources to maximize the impact for everyone.
Each member of the Barons team was paired with a Special Olympics Athlete via an application process. The most unique application was from Reis Davis. Reis requested to be paired with Tanner House. Not because he has any previous experience with House, but because House wears #21. Reis has Trisomy 21, the chromosomal condition that causes Down Syndrome. The two have become fast friends. Their relationship was chronicled in The Oklahoman in late January.
The first event was at the home of the Barons, the Cox Convention Center. It was an opportunity for each player to get to know the athlete and vice versa in a setting that allowed for interaction as well as some one-on-one time. Each athlete got a tour of the locker room and a stick autographed by the entire team.
Event number two pitted the Barons and their Buddies in a bowling event. At this event, each athlete earned more one-on-one interaction with their player, a t-shirt with their player’s name on it and a ticket to the upcoming game February 3.
At the game February 3, the Barons would be wearing one-of-a-kind jerseys featuring the SpecialOlympics Oklahoma logo. The jerseys were available for bids following the game. As partners inthe event, all proceeds from the auction were donated to Special Olympics Oklahoma. Barons fans responded and helped raise nearly $25,000.
Response from the Special Olympics community has been phenomenal and the impact the program has had on both sets of athletes has been immeasurable. Many of the athletes and families weren’t hockey fans before, have become hockey fans since the implementation of the program. One such group is the Horton family from Tulsa. Daughters Jennifer and Kalynn make the nearly 100-mile drive nearly every weekend to watch the Barons play, specifically their Buddies, Philippe Cornet and Josh Green.
Response from the Barons community has been just as positive. Within the auction there are stories of giving and interaction with the athletes. An anonymous Barons Season Seat Holder purchased the jersey of Barons defenseman Ryan Lowery. In lieu of keeping the jersey for himself, he gave it to Jonathan Parkhurst, Lowery’s Barons Buddy.