Home-game fun for Special Olympians

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The South Side Tigers Special Olympics basketball team made its only stop of the season at the Englewood High School Field House Jan. 9 against Evergreen.

The game was a high-spirited contest with parents and players applauding every play and every score, no matter which team did it.

“The game is all about letting the kids play and just have fun,” said Kathy VanHeukelen, a self-described Tiger team mom. “The kids have a blast and my son Jeffry loves it. This allows him to play basketball and that probably wouldn't happen otherwise. The kids have a blast and so do I.”

Englewood High School greeted the Special Olympians with the Pirate cheerleaders and the mascot attending the game and cheering on the players on both teams.

The Tigers roster is made up of players from Englewood, Littleton and Centennial who range in age from 12 to 61.

One of the players, 14-year-old Kathy Corente, said she joined the team because she has fun playing basketball with her friends.

“I like being with my friends and I like to play basketball,” the Englewood High School student said. “I think the thing I like the best about basketball is shooting and scoring a basket. Scoring a basket is exciting and a lot of fun.”

She said she also takes part in Special Olympics track meets. She said that is fun too because she likes to run.

In the stands, Kim Foster sat with her son Quenton, who wasn't feeling well. She said it was five years ago when someone at the middle school told her about the Special Olympics activities.

“Special Olympics are important to Quenton. It's important to me too because I'm his partner and go on the basketball court with him,” she said. “The program lets special kids be involved in sports. It is good for them and makes them feel good. Helping the kids have fun playing sports makes me feel good too.”

Special Olympic basketball teams play a game that has four eight-minute quarters and has a running clock. Because the Tigers had 32 players at the Jan. 9 game and to make sure all the players got into the game, the horn sounded every two minutes and a different five Tiger players moved onto the floor.

Rules are more liberal for Special Olympics basketball. There are no traveling calls and no one tries very hard to contest a shot.

For example, one of the Tigers, Antonio Young, is in a wheelchair. Players from both teams gathered around him when he got the ball and watched as the wheelchair was rolled to the baseline and the young athlete rolled the ball off his lap into a waist-high hoop set on the baseline to the cheers of everyone in the fieldhouse.

His mother, Jermica, pushed his wheelchair up and down the court when it was his turn to play. She said Antonio has fun being part of the team and it is fun for her too.

It seemed the score wasn't all that important to either team. For example, when a tall player got a rebound, usually he didn't put it back up. Instead, he passed it to a teammate so he or she could take a shot.

The game ended in a tie and the teams agreed to play one overtime period. Evergreen got the win, 48-44. Teams lined up and exchanged high-fives. The Englewood cheerleaders and mascot joined the line to congratulate the athletes on both teams for playing a good game.