Athletes of all ages and nationalities walked through the doors of the Breslin Center Saturday for the basketball finals of the World Dwarf Games. They made their way to section 113 and stepped onto the balcony. From there, World Games Director Jim Eckenrode says every single face had the same expression.
"They just stopped," he said. "And that makes everything worth it. All the effort we put in to do this. This is something that very few people get to experience. And for our athletes to have this. This is a gift from Michigan State University."
It didn't matter if they came from Michigan. The size of the Breslin Center and the thought of playing in front of fans widened everyone's eyes.
"I consider this is the biggest, grandest stage in Michigan," said Anthony Pepicello, whose team won the bronze medal. "National Championships, the likes of Earvin 'Magic' Johnson played on this court in this city.
"My stomach dropped, my heart stopped, you know I couldn't breathe. It's just an amazing feeling."
Len Sawisch, who co-founded the Dwarf Athletic Association of America, called it "one of the proudest moments of his life."
"Our first ever dwarf on dwarf basketball game was played in Jenison Field House in 1985 and now the last game of the 2013 World Dwarf Games, right here in the Breslin Center," he said. "It's amazing."
Dwarf-exclusive athletic competition began in East Lansing in 1985 at the Cerebral Palsy/Les Autres National Games. The games expanded to an international, dwarf-specific competition in 1993 with the first World Games in Chicago. Held every four years, participation has increased steadily. This year there were almost 400 athletes from 17 countries.