Aquinas High School senior Thomas Van De Wal has gotten accustomed to playing cheerleader for students participating in the Richmond County School System Special Olympics basketball skill competition. He and other Aquinas students have volunteered for the event for years and recognized many of the returning competitors.
“It’s just fun to see them all come back and have a good time,” he said.
Students from Burke, Columbia and Richmond County schools participated in the competition Thursday after a month and a half of training.
During their training , students learned basketball skills in a public school physical education setting and some received extra attention with the Special Olympics staff in small groups.
“It’s very similar to getting athletes ready for a game,” said Ted Miller of the Richmond County School System Special Olympics . “This is their competition.”
Including adult participants from Lynndale, Inc., 150 athletes participated in a dribbling relay, shooting competition and a wall ball exercise where students attempted to hit a designated spot and catch it when it bounced back to them. There were four different divisions according to age group—8 to 11, 12 to 15 , 16 to 21 and adults. Each group held a ribbon ceremony for its top performers. Some participants also took part in a team shooting event that involved passing the basketball from student to student and allowing each one shot.
The event provided much more than entertainment and exercise according to Kristy Olive of the Special Olympics.
“They work together as a team and learn comradery,” she said.
With many students learning basketball skills from age 6 to 22, the event provides ample social opportunities and lets them work with students from other counties outside of their classes, Olive said.