Ballin’ Badgers Earn Sportsmanship Honor at NIRSA Basketball Championship

April 24, 2023 Blog, Events, Featured, Press

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The Special Olympics Wisconsin Unified Champion Schools program sent a team representing Badgers for Special Olympics and their unified partners from University of Wisconsin-Madison to the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA) basketball championships April 14-16.

The tournament featured seven unified teams representing universities from across the country, including Brigham Young, Florida, George Washington, Iowa, Louisville, Toledo, and Wisconsin.

“Maryland was a wonderful experience! Between team meals, dance parties and watching the Ballin’ Badgers unite as one, it was an amazing weekend on and off the court,” Coach Julia Rosendahl said. “All of the teams created an environment of celebrating abilities and breaking down barriers through fierce competition and camaraderie. It was a privilege to coach and become closer with this team. I loved the whole journey.”

The Ballin’ Badgers squad opened the three-day tournament with a 42-33 loss to University of Florida, before dropping game two in pool play Saturday to George Washington University 42-39. Earning the #7-seed, Wisconsin then fell to #2-seed and eventual tournament champion Florida in playoff action, 40-31.

Despite the winless trip on the scoreboard, the Ballin’ Badgers represented the Badger State incredibly well, earning the Most Positive Team award. David Keller, who led the team with 17.0 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, was also named to the All-Tournament Team.

Coaches Ellen Baumann and Rosendahl were also recognized by Special Olympics North America and NIRSA for their positivity and optimism throughout the weekend.

“Winning the Positive Sporting Behavior award was like we just won the national championship!” Rosendahl said. “Every player had so much pride in how we carried ourselves on and off the court. One of the athletes said that receiving the positive behavior award was the highlight of his trip. Not only did the Ballin’ Badgers uplift our team, we celebrated everyone else’s triumphs. To me, that is what Unified is all about.

“I am extremely proud of our team and the group effort of rallying around each other to play Unified. From cheering on the Gators and Louisville in the championship game to watching our players make handshakes and form friendships with other teams, it’s these small moments of pure joy that remind me how lucky I am to be a part of Ballin’ Badgers and this community.”

Off the court, the group got in some bonding time as well. They toured nearby Washington, D.C., stopping at the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, the White House, and other sights in the greater District area.

Before the squad departed the Mid-Atlantic, the team received one last honor—NIRSA announced that UW-Madison officially won the bid to host the next three years of the Championships Tournament right on campus.


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