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Going for the gold

Observer Scene | Sunday, January 23, 2005

It isn’t too often that the Joyce Center becomes the favorite place for Notre Dame students to spend their Saturday night.But this weekend at the 19th annual Late Night Olympics, that may have been the case. Biting winds and snow piles made leaving home an intimidating prospect. But inside the JACC, students left hats, coats and mittens aside to shoot hoops, play kickball and even splash around the pool until the wee hours of the morning.Notre Dame lives up to its jock school reputation with this yearly event, but the effects go further. Sponsored by RecSports and the Department of Athletics, Late Night Olympics benefits the Special Olympics. RecSports runs several fundraisers in connection with the Late Night Olympics, including money from entry fees, donations from dorms to get points toward the Grand Prize, a raffle, an open skate on the ice rink and penny wars between the dorms. The final sum of the money raised this year is not yet known because the change from penny wars is being counted today, but assistant director of RecSports and director of Late Night Olympics Bill Reagan placed last year’s donation at over $8,000.Special Olympics is always glad to get volunteers, and has numerous uses for the money.”The money raised mostly goes to our basketball tournament in Indianapolis,” said Jane Skeens, assistant to the Special Olympics county coordinator of St. Joseph County. “It is a state competition, and the Late Night Olympic money helps cover entry fees.”But Late Night Olympics is also a fun event for people involved with Special Olympics. Special Olympics basketball players face off against members of the Notre Dame community, which Skeens cites as the highlight of the evening.”[The athletes] look forward to this all year, they all want to play,” Skeens said. “The parents are here, everyone’s excited, it’s a wonderful family night.”Director of athletics Sally Derengoski, who spearheaded the first Late Night Olympics, almost seemed embarrassed to admit that she brought the original idea for Notre Dame’s tradition from Indiana University at Bloomington. Derengoski participated in the Spirit of Sport all-nighter as an IU student, and decided to try it out when she started working for RecSports. But Notre Dame has obviously made the idea its own. Around 1,200 to 1,500 students have participated every year since the beginning, making Late Night Olympics the largest event sponsored by RecSports. Derengoski said the number of participants was almost as large when it started as it is now. “Right off the bat it was well received,” Derengoski said.What has changed is the amount of money raised. Derengoski said donations have continued to grow since Late Night Olympics started.”The amazing thing to me is that everybody is really active in the fundraising,” she said. “Most reps have to ask for more raffle tickets. For a one night bash, just having a good time and playing ball, that’s a pretty neat event.”Of course it’s the games that keep people coming back every year. Wandering around, it’s not hard to see why. In the pool people in swim caps and inner tubes are throwing balls at each other, and on the main floor the Special Olympians have just beat the rectors and members of the athletic department 34 to 24 while teams on either side faced off in volleyball. In the front hall the dance marathon is about to start and in a few hours the dorms will divide into two huge teams for a game of monster dodge ball. Almost every part of the JACC is hopping.Moving the event from a Friday to Saturday did not make a large difference in overall attendance. However, “several sports had much better participation this year than a year ago,” according to Reagan. Of the 536 teams that entered in 17 events, teams in Wiffleball increased from 13 to 19 teams, and teams in Nerf football more than doubled from 12 to 25 teams. Overall, the Keenan/Farley/LeMans team had the most participants enter through the door, although that does not necessarily mean they had the most teams entered. Participants were generally pleased with the event as it went into the final hours.”Heck yes I’m excited!” said junior Tyler Smith about winning a gold medal in Inner tube Water Polo on the O’Neill/Lyons team.”The dance marathon is fun to watch,” said junior Christina Kavran of the side events as she waited for target golf to start.”It was nice to just have fun and enjoy it without all the pressure,” said freshman Susan Pinnick of Welsh Family. The Co-Rec Indoor Soccer event was a change from her usual varsity soccer workouts.”It’s a fun opportunity,” said Welsh Family Hall athletic commissioner Melissa Sands, who goes door to door selling raffle tickets to girls who might not have heard about the event at hall council meetings. “It’s a laid back atmosphere, it’s for a great cause. People get really excited.”After ten hours of activity, the last student workers left the Joyce Center at 4 a.m. The results that declare an overall winner of Late Night Olympics are still being tabulated.