This blog is reposted with permission from the author, Sarah Smith, an SONJ basketball coach. Her original blog post can be found here.
This past weekend was the Spring Sports Festival for Special Olympics, held in Wildwood, New Jersey. This is the “state tournament” for Special Olympics basketball teams from all over New Jersey. Throughout the entire season, the kids look forward to and talk about the possibility of attending this exciting overnight trip with their teammates and coaches. When my team, the SKOR Jammers, won the gold medal at our Sectional Tournament two weeks ago, the kids were beyond thrilled that they would be going to Wildwood this year.
They get to play in multiple tournament games, attend a carnival, boogie down at the dance, eat meals together, hang out with their coaches, walk on the boardwalk, and stay overnight in a Wildwood hotel, which is a unique experience in and of itself. Every year, the competition varies based on which division we end up in. This year, the competition was tough.
Our first two games we lost by two points to two very talented teams, with scores of 24-26 and 40-42. The kids won every game at the Sectional Tournament, so I feel like two losses in one day was pretty frustrating for them (and me). They had fun, though. We always do. We “moved on” from our losses and got to share a great meal together at the Wildwoods Convention Center. A weekend overnight trip without your parents is really a “rite of passage” for every teenager, regardless of their ability level. They enjoyed the Special Olympics dance and carnival, held at the convention center as well. The ‘always-interesting’ job of us (coaches) getting everyone asleep [without parents] is not one for the weary. After finding one kid covered head to toe in superhero stickers (other details not needed), finding another kid who had hung up all of his clothes on the hangers (you know, t-shirts, basketball uniform, underwear, socks, quite the sight to see), multiple other ‘always-interesting’ incidents, and reviewing the rule, “We do not leave our hotel room until our coaches come get us tomorrow morning” 1,324 times, we were off to sleep. We woke up, “Ready to play some basketball!” as one of my guys said this morning [nice and early, fully uniformed, bright eyed and bushy tailed].
So, there’s one kid, E., who hasn’t scored a basket this season. He loves playing basketball and he is thrilled to be there, even without making a shot. He doesn’t let his physical disabilities stop him from hustling down the court as fast as he can. Every game, I get the kids to pass to him, and for the life of us all it just won’t go in the basket. Today, I was not going to end this season without getting E a shot. Starting at the beginning of the second half, I told the boys, “Nobody is allowed to shoot. We are only passing to E. Every time you get the ball, it goes to E. We want him to get a chance to make a basket just like all of you. Got it?” The kids understood their directions and know what happens when they don’t follow them. Let “Project E will get a basket” begin. Literally every minute or so, E got to take a shot. I think we must have had 15 shots during the third and fourth quarter. They bounced on the rim. The crowd”ooh”ed and “aww”ed after every shot, hoping and praying that the ball would go in the basket! Nope.
I turned around and told the scorekeeper, “I’m not leaving here today until E gets his shot for the season.”
The kids were so good. No, actually, they were awesome. Such little team players, “putting it all together,” passing to their teammate, giving him a chance to score. One pass after the other, “Pass it to E!” they shouted. Literally sixteen minutes of “E” shooting at that stubborn basket that wouldn’t accept his shot. As the clock ticked down, I began to think we might not be getting our E shot after all. I didn’t give up. Neither did the kids! Determined to get E his shot, they kept passing it to him.
Well, in true Special Olympics headline news story style, one of the kids passed E the ball with ten seconds remaining on the clock. He took his little scuffle step, put the ball up in the air, and took his shot. It didn’t even bounce. The only sound we heard was SWISH. A 3-pointer at the last second for E. The crowd was ROARING. E took a victory lap around the gym. I rushed the court and screamed in his face, “You did it! You did it!” This kid was the happiest kid I have EVER seen in my life. I cried. I don’t ever cry when I’m happy. I turned and looked at the scorekeeper, who gave me a thumbs up and a teary eyed smile.
Today was truly, a moment in history. And we have it on video. Great season, SKOR Jammers.