In a big, mostly empty gymnasium Sunday, a Spokane basketball team was trying to convince their green-and-white-clad rivals from Issaquah that a four-point lead with four minutes to go was no cause for celebration.
Their arguments were in the form of outside shots, fast breaks and the best defense they could muster. They passed a lot. They shared the ball.
They cheered each other on.
From the sideline at the Special Olympics Washington State Basketball Tournament, it was hard to tell some of these players had developmental disabilities.
That was the point.
When those teams grab a basketball and hit the court, they learn “disabilities are not important any more,” said Steve Busch, a Spokane team coach.
Held this weekend at Eastern Washington University in Cheney, the tournament had more than 600 players and nearly 60 teams dribbling, dashing and dunking for the glory of a gold medal.
This contest was about more than competition. It was also about connections between people who have developmental disabilities and those who don’t.
Many of the teams were “unified,” which means they were made up of Special Olympians and players without disabilities. The final game of the master’s division had two such teams.
“We don’t consider ourselves a Special Olympics team,” said Busch. “We are a team that goes to the Special Olympics’ tournament. We play all year long.”
And for Busch’s team, this was the final game in the master’s division. The score was 35 to 31.
Spokane and Issaquah had played each other twice before in the tournament, each winning one game. In both cases, victory was determined by less than seven points.
But in the final four minutes, Issaquah would lengthen the lead and win 43 to 34. They whooped with victory. The Spokane players, sweating in their gray T-shirts and blue shorts would give a more subdued cheer. They had lost the final round but won silver medals, going further than they ever had in the tournament.
“Issaquah is hard to beat,” said Dale Jorgenson, 35, one of the Spokane Special Olympians. “But we played really good. We’ve got a really good team.”
Like many of the other Special Olympians on the team, Jorgenson has played basketball in a Spokane Parks and Recreation program for years.
“It’s something I can get out and do and accomplish in life,” he said. “It’s just a great thing to work with other people.”
According to Busch, who is also a volunteer for the program, some of the players haven’t missed a day in years.
“It is very much an important part of their life,” he said.
For those members of the team who don’t have disabilities, playing with this group is an important part of their lives too.
“I think I get more out of them than they get out of me,” said Nick Saucedo, a 24-year-old Eastern student who has played with the team since last October.
“It’s been really good. I’ve kind of bonded with these guys,” Saucedo said. “This is important to them and I realize it’s important to me.
“They are always good hearted,” he added. “There’s no attitude, no worry, no talking trash. We just play ball.”
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