Photo Courtesy of Special Olympics Illinois.
During the weekend of March 14th, more than 1,650 athletes from across the state gathered for the annual Special Olympics Basketball Tournament that was held at Illinois State and Illinois Wesleyan.
The basketball tournament, which has been held at Illinois State since 1977, featured 132 teams. The athletes participated in five categories of play and are divisioned within each category based on age and skill level.
“We make sure that every team in every division has an equal chance to win,” Michele Evans, Director of Communications and Publications for Special Olympics Illinois, said.
The tournament featured more than just basketball, and started with its annual opening ceremonies, which was followed by a dance for all the athletes.
“One of the athletes favorite things about the weekend, other than the competition itself, is the dance that comes after the opening ceremonies,” Evans said. “They get a chance to socialize with each other, dance, and show off their moves. The dance is really a big thing for them.”
Athletes from McLean and Peoria County showed off their skills during the weekend, with multiple athletes taking first place. Brookelyn Love Sutter from Normal won first place in the Basketball Skills event, while the Peoria Thunder took 1st place in their Senior Male Team Competition.
This year’s games were a success for the athletes, their families, and the community.
“Everything went really smooth,” Evans said. “I think all of the athletes really enjoyed themselves, as well as their parents, and all the supporters that came out to watch the tournament.”
Coming not long after the basketball tournament is this years Special Olympic Spring Games. The Spring Games will be hosted on May 4th at Normal West High School, and will be open to athletes from the Special Olympics Heartland Region, which encompasses both McLean and Peoria County.
The Spring Games serve as a precursor to the Special Olympic Summer Games that take place in June. The athletes who win gold medals at the Spring Games automatically qualify to go to the state summer games.
Also coming up for Heartland Region athletes are events taking place on April 5th and April 12th in Champaign. On April 5th a Bocce tournament will take place at Dexter field, while on April 12th The University of Illinois’ ARC will host Aquatic races.
The importance of these Illinois Special Olympic events go beyond just having fun for the athletes.
“I think that events like these are a great opportunity for members of the community at large to come out, see our competition, and see that our athletes are just like every other athlete,” Evans said. “They like to be cheered on and they want to win. We like to talk about the transformative power of the Special Olympics, and that it transforms not only the lives of our athletes, but our coaches, volunteers, and the general public.”
If you are interested in volunteering for any of the upcoming events you can reach out to the Heartland Area Director Jill Speer at 309-888-2012.
For more information on the Illinois Special Olympics organization you can visit their website at www.soill.org.