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'Badger Ballers' game at Snow College brings community together for those with special needs

Posted at 5:56 PM, Apr 17, 2023

EPHRAIM, Utah — The annual "Badger Ballers" game is something many people in central Utah look forward to all year long.

It started small nearly a decade ago: an activity put on by Snow College's newspaper club involving basketball players, cheerleaders, drill team, students and faculty, to celebrate those with special needs. It has grown into something much bigger than the organizers say they ever could have imagined.

"It’s a night that just makes you feel good," said Sandra Cox, a professor of communications at Snow College. "They’re stars. They are. It’s their night. They get to like go with it — I mean, the crowd is cheering them on, and we all need somebody to cheer us on."

Clay Nielsen is the day program coordinator at Sanpete Community Training Center where he tries to teach his clients job skills but also have some fun. He says the big game set for Monday night is something they look forward to all year long.

"It is, dang near, the highlight of the year for some of these guys! They ask me weekly, 'When’s Badger Ballers?' And that was months ago. And I’m like, 'It’s coming,'" Nielsen said.

He says he's so grateful to Snow College and its student body for what this event does for his clients.

"It’s huge for them to be accepted, to be a part of the community. So often so many of our clients fade into the background and get passed up and to have their time in the spotlight. It just means the world to them," he said.

Chris Huntsman and Anthony Sanders said they've been practicing their basketball skills in anticipation of the big game. They told FOX 13 News on Monday that they're ready to put up some big numbers.

When asked what their favorite part of the game is, Sanders said: "Dribbling the ball." Huntsman's answer: "Cheerleaders."

Ann Gate said she loves dancing with the drill team at halftime the most. Telsey Brewer said she got her nickname from her past performance on the court: "Buckets."

Spencer Ashton said it's all about the applause for him.

"They cheer for me and then I make the baskets," he said.

Hundreds attend in the crowd and cheer the players on as they come out onto the court and throughout the game.

"I love seeing them included, and we have a ball," Nielsen said. "The basketball players are there to help and the cheerleaders are cheering, and my clients just love it!"

Nielsen says he wants to remind everyone of something important.

"They’re just people like everyone else. With the right support and the right guidance, they can accomplish anything that anyone else can," he said.

Badger Ballers is a free event, and the public is invited to come out and cheer them on. It will take place Monday at the activity center on Snow College's campus in Ephraim at 7 p.m.