By KATIE ELLINGTON
The local Special Olympics basketball team, the Richland County Bears, are champions once again. At their final game of the season last Friday against the Delaware County Racers, the Bears won their third state title in a row. The team is coached by head coach John Caugherty and assistant coaches Mike Fisher and Andy Eisaman.
The team is made up of 18 boys aged 13 through 21. Among them are the Valley’s own Logan Norris, Austin Wells, J.R. Smith and Cody Oswalt, all high school students. After a warm send off by the Clear Fork student body, the four left school Friday morning around 11 a.m. for Bowling Green High School. The team won with a 39-29 score, with Smith scoring 15 points and Norris contributing four.
“JR is my top player,” said Caugherty. After Smith was taken out for the second quarter due to fouls, the Bears fell behind 19-15 at halftime. Smith was back on the court for the third quarter, in which the Bears scored seven points despite a rough start. In the final quarter, the team scored another thirteen points, allowing them to take home the title once again.
“It was a very competitive, close game,” said Donna Shank, the local Special Olympics athletic director. “It was exciting to watch. The other team played really good defense.”
When asked what makes his team winners, Caugherty cited their hard-working attitude.
“They’re winners, they don’t like to lose,” he said. “They give me 100 percent every practice, every game.”
“It’s fun to watch the teamwork…their enthusiasm and their faces when they all win,” stated middle school principal Steven Bloir, who attends some of the games. Bloir traveled to Bowling Green to watch Friday’s game, as did high school seniors Makayla Arnold and Amanda Cole.
“It’s important to be involved,” Cole said. Both she and Arnold are members of Project Support, a group that focuses on helping and including high school students with multiple handicaps. The group decorated the student’s lockers and the door to their classroom prior to the game and spends time with the students during the school week.
“I spend my seventh mod study hall with them two days a week,” Cole informed. “I’ve gotten to know them and it’s cool to support them.”
The entire student body got to show their support for the team members Friday morning by forming a spirit arch which began at the door to their classroom to led all the way to their car. The building was filled with cheers and marching band music as the four boys left for the game. According to high school principal, Brian Brown, the send-off was a spontaneous idea that came together that morning.
“They absolutely loved it,” commented their teacher, Amy Cox, via email.
“It’s great to see (the Bears teammates) encouraged and to see them participate in these types of activities,” Brown reflected. Whenever the team is mentioned, their faces quickly light up with pride and excitement; it’s clear to see that being part of the team is a positive experience for players and coaches alike.
“They do a lot of the same stuff that regular kids get to do,” stated Shank of the team. “It gives the kids a chance to be active, to make new friends, to feel like they’re a part of a team and to learn sportsmanship.”
“The first thing we talk about in the morning after a game is the score, how many points everyone made, anything interesting or funny about the game,” said Cox. “These boys just make my heart sing with joy! I am so happy for each one of them on this amazing achievement.”
J.R., Cody, Logan and Austin count spend time with friends, scoring points, receiving the ball and the after-game meals at Golden Corral among the greatest perks of being a Bear.
“I’ve coached about everything…this is the most gratifying coaching job I’ve ever had in my life,” affirmed Caugherty.
The Bears will be acknowledged this Friday during halftime of the All Star basketball game at Lexington High School. The game begins at 7:30. To find out more about the Special Olympics, visit their website at www.specialolympics.org.