Special Olympians and spectators win

Staff writer

Rachael Johnson jumped with all her might when McPherson County scored a basket.

“I love to see them win, win, win,” the Special Olympian with Down syndrome said. “When the ball goes in the hoop, I just get so excited. It doesn’t matter who plays. I just like to see it go in.”

Johnson was one of more than 100 participants in this year’s Special Olympics basketball tournament at Tabor College.

Teams were formed based on county and skill level, ensuring that each individual would have an equal chance to play at a level playing field in the tournament.

While the competition was thick, each player, including Timothy Harvey of McPherson, had a mile-wide smile as they competed on the small basketball court.

Harvey said while he liked to play in the tournament, he wasn’t really there to beat out the other teams: He just want to have fun playing his favorite sport.

“I like dribbling the ball back and forth,” he said. “I like to pass the ball to my teammates. I know they’ll get it right in the basket —and then, we’ll win!”

Many, like Steven Hopkins of Hillsboro, said they enjoyed the tournament for one reason: they saw the players put their heart on the basketball court.

“You can just see that they love what they do,” he said. “Even when they fall flat on their face, they’re still happy. They get right back on their feet, and get back to the game at hand.

“Are there some fights? Yes, of course, but you’re going to get that at any sporting event. They’re serious players, but they have hearts of gold. They’d give you the shirt off their back if you needed it.”

Megan Wilder, 50, of Marion was touched by the teams’ attitude toward one another.

In fact, tears came to her eyes a few times when the players helped their teammates up from the court floor.

She said she hasn’t been to a Special Olympics tournament in over 30 years — and was glad to see that the spirit of the games haven’t changed too much.

“I used to volunteer with the Special Olympics when I was in college,” she said.

“It was a great experience — and this event just brings back so many memories. I loved working with the teams back then. They loved to compete, but it wasn’t everything to them. They just love life. I wish I could bottle up that attitude. The world could use some more people who are willing to love unashamedly.”

The teams will continue to practice until Saturday, when they will compete at the state competition at Fort Hays University.

The local tournament was organized purposefully beforehand so the teams could practice.

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