Columbia basketball star works with Special Olympic athletes

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COLUMBIA - Columbia College basketball senior Zach Rockers has found much success on the court during his past five seasons. However, Rockers is enjoying what he is doing on a different court that is not the Southwell Complex.

"It brings so much joy to my day. I love to do this. I love to come out. These guys are my friends. That's the best way I can put it," Rockers said.  

Every Tuesday, for the past two years, Rockers works with the Special Olympic basketball team in Columbia. The team name is the Cougars, just like the team he represents. He is an idol to each individual on the team.

"He's really dedicated to us, he's dedicated to Columbia College, he's dedicated to his work and I just love that in a player," said player Isaac Welch. 

The Cougars finished 2nd in the Special Olympic State Games last season. This season, the team finished 1-1 and now the team has to wait and see if they will be given an at-large bid for the games.

"That has been the goal for the guys this year, is to get back to state and bring home the title," Rockers said. 

While the Helias graduate works with these players every week, he also has another weekly tradition with another Special Olympic athlete.

Rockers and old Cougar basketball teammate Tanner Sutton make time to meet up with Columbia College cafeteria worker Sarah Byland once a week.

"He's my best friend," said Byland.

Byland participates in many Special Olympic events including bowling, swimming and bocce ball. 

"If there's a sport, Sarah is going to do it. She'll always message me on Facebook and tell me her bowling scores," Rockers said. 

Rockers has been nominated for the Allstate Good Works Team for the past two years for what he has done off the court, which includes players from NCAA Division I, II, III and the NAIA. 

"When you really get to know people involved in Special Olympics, they're just like me and you. They have a greater capacity to love, care and to be your friend," he said. 

Now that Rockers is finishing his final season at Columbia College, he knows he will always have something to look back.

"It is definitely an organization that is near and dear to my heart and something I want to stay involved with for many years to come," he said.

As for Byland, she does not want her best friend to go far.

"I'm going to miss him next year. I'm going to miss my good buddy," she said.