When a group of Special Olympics athletes on a Kenosha-based women’s basketball team were competing recently for a chance to play in the state finals, they decided that win or lose, they were not going to go to state.
“The girls decided among themselves that if they qualified for state they weren’t going to go. They were going to come here instead,” said coach Rick Moffett.
The “here” in question was Tarble Arena at Cathage College, where on Saturday students from the Cathage Special Olympics Club were hosting their fifth annual basketball game between Cathage students and local Special Olympics teams. By chance, the game was held on the same day as the State Basketball Tournament for Special Olympics.
Turned out the team didn’t have to choose — they didn’t make it to state. But the Carthage game is the one the basketball players really look forward to, Moffett said.
In the Carthage game, student volunteers from the college’s athletic teams and organizations play a game with local Special Olympics basketball teams. Each team plays a quarter, so each of the 45 to 50 Special Olympics athletes who attended got a chance to play.
“This is very special,” Moffett said. “It’s the atmosphere — there’s an announcer, cheerleaders, the crowd — they feel like they are really acknowledged.”
At the teams’ regular games during the season, multiple teams are playing on multiple courts, with teams moving from one game to the next. Sometimes, there is so much going on in one gym, the families in the crowd don’t even notice when a player scores.
“This is more like a regular high school or college game,” Moffett said.
Lyndsey Bielinski, a Carthage junior and president of the Special Olympics Club, said about 35 students volunteered at the event, from those who play to students helping with raffles and food. She said the basketball game is the club’s biggest event of the year, but they also host other activities, including skills days when Carthage athletes coach players on different teams throughout the year.
Moffett said the Carthage students also make posters with the names of each of the athletes playing, so the athletes and families can hold up the signs during the game.
“They make posters for every individual,” he said. “That’s one of the special things about this.”
Special Olympics has year-round team sports training and competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. In Kenosha, many of the athletes begin the program through Kenosha Unified School District, then transition into adult programs.
Moffett said the individuals are placed on teams with individuals of similar cognitive and physical skills. On Saturday, the Special Olympians playing ranged in age from early teens to late 50s.
Zachery Parker, 25, said he started in Special Olympics with KUSD when he was 18 and has now moved into the adult program. He plays basketball and softball.
“We scored 101 points — that’s the first time we got over 100,” Parker said after the game. He said he looks forward to the game every year.
“I like playing in an arena like this,” he said.