The Garden City Telegram
2/14/2014
SOUTHWEST LIFE

Baskets full of joy

Becky Malewitz/TelegramBrittany Hendershot, 20, participates in a game Tuesday evening.  This year is Brittany and her brother Joshua's first year participating in the program.
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Pure enjoyment of participation on display in adapted hoops league.

If you ever need a lesson in sportsmanship and teamwork, just walk into the Victor Ornelas Elementary School gym on a Tuesday night.

For six weeks during the winter season, the Garden City Recreation Commission offers an adapted basketball program for mentally challenged adults in the community.

"I think it's extremely important because it gives them a chance to get out and exercise with their friends," said Travis Neiding, who is in charge of the program.

In addition to adapted basketball, the rec also holds adapted volleyball and tennis programs. Because of the varying levels of athleticism, games in these leagues have their own rhythm.

At Tuesday's basketball games, it is not uncommon to see both teams stop under the basket and wait as a shooter attempts a shot.

"If you watch for awhile, you will see that some of (the participants) go out and know that someone on the other team can't make the basket, so they'll go right behind them and help the ball into the net. It's just so sweet," said Francy Phillis, local program coordinator for Southwest Developmental Services Inc. (SDSI). "You know if someone from the other team falls and hurts themselves, they help them up. You know, it's just cool that they get to do that."

Rick Thomas has been playing in the league since it started more than 20 years ago.

"It's wonderful, you know. I go to work 11 to 4, get ready and then I come out here," he said in between games. "I enjoy sports. I like participating with other teams."

For Thomas, helping out other athletes is just part of the game.

"That's part of being teammates. We have to help them out, make sure they have control of the ball and make sure they dribble and stuff like that," he said. "You gotta get along with them. That's sportsmanship."

Mary Schwartz sat on the sidelines watching her 30-year-old daughter, Lindsey, playing in Tuesday's game. Lindsey just joined the league this year, and Schwartz says she is happy her daughter has a place where she can meet other people.

"She's not real good at basketball, but she loves just socializing with other people in her like-minded disability," she said. "You know, there are not a lot of activities for the disabled, so it gives them something to do."

Schwartz also mentioned how impressed she was with the demonstration of teamwork and sportsmanship she has seen since Lindsey began playing basketball.

"They always give each other hi-fives and hugs," Schwartz said. "They are just really supportive of each other. When they see that somebody is not good at what they do, they give them the ball and give them a chance. It's like moral support for each other because they realize that, you know, maybe somebody's not as athletic as they are. These guys are very encouraging to those that are not as capable as they are. It's really kind of neat to watch them."

It doesn't take long to see what Schwartz is talking about as the entire group stands next to one of the baskets watching as one of the lesser-skilled players attempts a shot. As it misses, a member of the opposite team grabs the rebound and hands it back to her. This cycle happens two more times, until he himself puts the ball in the hoop for her, smiles and gives her a hi-five as she beams back.

Julie Morris was also watching from the sidelines Tuesday night. In addition to basketball, her son, Cody, participates in bowling and track and field programs through SDSI and the Special Olympics.

"Cody really likes to do it," she said. "We live in the country, and he doesn't drive, so it's something that he can come and do for him. It's just good for him because he just doesn't get out and socialize because we don't have neighbors right next door, so when he comes to town, that's his time to be social."

Morris also said Cody is excited to share his sports experiences with others.

"It's something he likes to talk about and tell people about. (He tells) family members what he did, all the shots he made. It's just a goal he likes to do," she said. "Something they can do that we don't do for them. Cody's pretty shy. He doesn't get in on the action on the ball, but he loves to do it."

Susan Hendershot has two kids participating in the basketball program, Joshua, 19, and Brittany, 20.

She appreciates having a place where the kids can be active.

"It helps them burn off energy and sleep better. That is always a plus." Hendershot said laughing. "It helps get them involved in the community and make new friends. They really enjoy it. They are really excited. Tuesday's are crazy."