More than 150 athletes suited up to play basketball at Brooks on Sunday as part of a Special Olympics event that our boys 1st basketball team hosted.
This year marked the fourth annual Special Olympics event at Brooks for middle- and high-school students, as well as young adults, with intellectual disabilities. The players came from four neighboring towns to play a series of basketball games together. Brooks players got into the games too – literally.
"Brooks kids really run the whole thing at this point," said Nick Savarese, vice president of advancement and marketing for The Special Olympics Massachusetts. During the four-hour event, "they make the announcements, tell kids to shoot, encourage them to 'run this way,' cheer from the sidelines and even join in at times."
At one point on Sunday, Pat Freiermuth '18 and Cam Ray '18 even borrowed jerseys from one of the teams and jumped on the court. "They ran up and down the court with the Special Olympics team," said John McVeigh, Brooks' boys 1st basketball team coach. "There were just so many smiles and laughs. The Special Olympics players had some amazing celebrations after they scored, and our guys really enjoyed watching those moments of pure joy."
Freiermuth was grateful for the opportunity to participate. "Seeing how much fun the kids have out there and how easy the basketball team connects with them," he said, "is something truly special."
Special Olympics basketball teams don't get to play each other as often as typical school and recreational-league teams do. "So everybody is really excited to get together at this event," said Savarese. "It's become a thing where the Special Olympics athletes as well as coaches look forward to it each year. It's such a great day."
Brooks' partnership with the Special Olympics basketball teams began in 2013. "Nick and I actually went to high school together," said McVeigh. "He came to me with an idea to have us host the local teams, and I knew right away it was just the kind of thing our players would love to do."
Since the Special Olympics teams have been returning year after year, Brooks players have become invested in the experience. "It's cool that Brooks kids who have been doing this for a couple of years now are more familiar with our groups, just as our athletes have become more comfortable coming here," said Savarese. "It's such a great welcoming environment that the event goes off so smoothly and the athletes can really relax and be at their best. Everyone comes together around a notion of inclusion and respect through the power of sports."
With their impressive 13-game winning streak, Brooks' boys 1st basketball team are by definition winners, yet McVeigh insisted that his squad has improved thanks to their involvement with the Special Olympics teams. "The connections they make with the players and the lessons our guys can learn from the Special Olympics players' approach and love for the game are long lasting," he said. "It's just so much fun, and a wonderful reminder about why we play the game of basketball."
"I'm always proud of my team," he added. "But I'm most proud of them in moments and days like Sunday."
Brooks' boys 1st basketball team will welcome local Special Olympics basketball teams to campus again on February 19. At that event, organizers will challenge players to a partner-dunk contest (with Brooks players teamed up with Special Olympics athletes), which was held for the first time ever two years ago at Brooks.
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