Steve Fronk and Patrick Knight watched as their team, exploding with joy, stormed the court.
The players had rallied in the district championship and clinched a chance for the state title.
“They celebrated like they just won the Final Four,” Fronk said.
When the team headed back to the bench, one player asked: “Did we win?”
Knight chuckled, suddenly appreciating the classic Special Olympics moment.
“In Special Olympics, there is enjoyment in every minute of every practice, and every second of every game. It gives you perspective,” he said.
A former public defender, Knight, 54, now deals primarily with white-collar civil and criminal litigation, including some health care law and government investigations.
Once in private practice, Fronk, 55, has been an attorney and hearing examiner for the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission for the last 20 years.
As lawyers, Knight and Fronk spend each day choosing their words and checking their emotions.
As “Coach Steve” and “Coach Pat,” there is none of that.
“It’s, by far, the most fun of anything that I’m involved in,” Knight said. “It’s an incredible release. You relax.”
The Milwaukee men have led the Special Olympics’ Wauwatosa Heat basketball team for nearly five years.
They usually coach about 10 players, ages 12 to 52, with help from their assistant coach, a 64-year-old former Special Olympian.
“I’m coaching people who have been on the team for 20-some years, and they enjoy each year as if it’s the first,” Knight said.
“We get more than we give,” Fronk said. “It can be draining, but you come home and you have a smile on your face.
“I think it’s just an understanding,” Fronk said. “You look at these athletes and some of the difficulties they have had to deal with. If they, given what they have to deal with, can find happiness, so can we. That’s the big thing. You recognize that happiness is something that we can find if we just understand what it is.”
So what is it?
Recognizing the simple truth in a smiling player’s face. Watching two athletes collide, then help each other up and go at it again with no ill will between them. Learning to disconnect from the stress and self-importance of the office.
Those are the things Fronk and Knight take from the basketball court to the courtroom.
“The volunteer work with Special Olympics really renews your faith in basic human values,” Fronk said.