Couple helps make Olympics special for Hays team

Olliff's ARC

Their team went home with gold medals. But Kenton and Carol Olliff will tell you they had a golden experience as well.

The Olliffs, both employees of Fort Hays State University, coach the Gold team of the ARC of Central Plains, which won its division at this past weekend's Special Olympics Kansas Basketball and Cheerleading Tournament in Hays.

The tournament was a culmination of a lot of practice and planning for the more than 1,000 athletes and their coaches and families who converged on Hays for the weekend.

Following Saturday's awards ceremony, the ARC of Central Plains athletes kept a tight hold on the medals around their necks.

The gold medals were the same size as the silver ones, which the Olliffs' team received the past two years for finishing second. But it probably wouldn't have mattered what color the medals were.

"Seeing their faces light up when they make a shot, or even when they shoot" is one of the biggest rewards of coaching the athletes, said Kenton, director of the Kelly Center on the FHSU campus.

Carol, director of international student services at FHSU, has been involved with Special Olympics since the early 1980s when she worked a Special Olympics track meet as part of class at Colby Community College.

She started coaching an ARC basketball team when she started working at FHSU in the late 1980s, and she has been a long-time member of the Games Management Team. But Kenton's first experience with helping out at the tournament came when he met Carol.

"He kind of inherited this," Carol said. But you won't hear him complain about giving up being outdoors on a pleasant spring afternoon to coach.

"It was part of our wedding vows," Kenton said.

The Olliffs, who met at Fort Hays State when Kenton started working on campus in the early 2000s, will celebrate their ninth wedding anniversary in June.

Kenton was hooked after attending his first ARC activity with Carol. He started tagging along to basketball practices, and soon became as involved as his future wife.

Kenton laughed when talking about one of the first dances he attended with Carol during the Special Olympics state basketball weekend.

"We got in trouble (with the athletes) for holding hands," he said, adding "holding hands" is on the athletes' list of things not to do at the dance.

The Olliffs are two of hundreds of volunteers who give of their time on this weekend, which was celebrating its 40th anniversary of being held in Hays.

"It's amazing the support our Hays community has for this tournament," Carol said, "and the way the university basically turns over its facilities for us to use."

One of the Central Plains athletes gave Kenton a huge smile after the awards ceremony when he reminded them of the ensuing trip to Dairy Queen to celebrate.

"It's a great reminder," Kenton said, "of what's really important in life."

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