Saturday, March 24, 2007

A Lesson in Sportsmanship

Yesterday Sharyll and I went to Hinkle Fieldhouse at Butler University to watch my 19-year-old autistic son, Phillip, play with his Special Olympics Basketball team and WIN the state semi-finals at 10:00 AM.

At noon, we met a fellow PALS (person with ALS) and new friend, Kent and his wife for lunch. We spent nearly 3 hours talking about all the changes we are experiencing (he is 40 and has two young children).

Then it was back to Butler to watch Phillip's team play in the state championship at 4 PM. It was a VERY exciting game, and I was so proud of Phillip's team and of his wonderful coaches. It was one of the most touching experiences I've ever had. For those of you unfamiliar with Special Olympics (as I was) it isn't quite what you might imagine. In S.O. basketball there must be at least 3 players on the court who are special olympians, while the other two slots may be filled with special olympians or with "partners" (non-disabled peers).

First let me brag on my friend Lisa's son, Cody, who is a Special Olympian and is the KING of the THREE POINT SHOT! I have never seen a kid who loves to shoot three-pointers so much and does it so well! I lost count of the 3-point baskets he made for the team! It was amazing. Now, for those of you who don't know Phillip, just the fact that he can get out on the court (with all that echoing and those buzzers!) and has learned to listen to the coaches' direction is a huge step. Phillip's team has players with a wide range of abilities, ages and sizes... the team captain is a small 10 year old boy with Down's Syndrome who literally beams every second he is playing......his chubby little legs straining to keep him at the same end of the court as the rest of the team. The biggest kid on the team is more than twice as tall as the little guy with Down's and probably 3 times his weight, but they are best buddies. It is inspiring just to watch these kids interact as a supportive group for one another. There are a few "partners" on the team, at least two of which are on the (regular) high school basketball team. All the "partners" are awesome at making sure that they give all the special olympians an opportunity to handle the ball at some point during the game, to the extent that the special olympian is able. And this is no slow-paced gig. These kids run the court and shoot, dribble and guard with all their heart and soul. The finals was won in OVERTIME with a score of 58-54!

What was so amazing to me was the contrast between the two teams that played in the finals. The other team had greater than 1/3 of it's players who were not special olympians. There were always TWO "partners" in the game......always. Several of the team's special olympians never took the court and it was obvious that their "partners" had not been coached to play as a team with the SO's. They pretty much played "for" them. The coach of the other team acted like many "typical coaches", rolling his eyes at the referee's calls, throwing up his hands in disgust when things didn't go "well" and (again) didn't even rotate in all his special olympians.

Despite this, Phillip's team (the Madison County Scotts) played a fair, sportsmanlike and team-oriented game and they WON. In my opinion, they won, regardless of how the score had ended, because they played honorably and with the values that all athletes ("challenged" or NOT) should embody! I was so proud of everyone and I am so grateful for the awesome coaching (two Anderson University Special Ed/Adaptive PE majors). It was great!!!!!

More on why I have no pictures posted yet in my next blog entry...but I'll get some on here soon. Until then, if you know Phillip and see him tell him CONGRATULATIONS! He's not only learned a little basketball but he's been part of a TEAM of WINNERS in the truest sense of the words. Love, Claudia

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