NORMAN — Loud cheers burst from proud parents and family members as one child scored a three-pointer, ending a basketball game in the second overtime.
This weekend, about 2,200 athletes gathered to compete in the Special Olympics for the 18th Annual Winter Games. Those competing in basketball joined at the University of Oklahoma’s Huston Huffman Center on Saturday.
“That one was a nail-biter,” said Donna Ham, Marketing and Communications Director for Special Olympics Oklahoma, after watching the basketball game that had just gone into two overtimes.
“That was like winning a gold medal,” said volunteer coach Amy Underhill after her team won.
The winning team playing that game was made up of a group of children from Noble, Purcell and Lexington areas, but there were several games going on simultaneously Saturday. The Huff Center was full of noise, from dribbling basketballs, referee whistles and cheering parents to chattering athletes.
Underhill has been involved in SOOK for 14 years, coaching several teams in both Summer and Winter Games.
“I enjoy the kids, the excitement of the kids, how they are able to participate in a sport and be successful like their peers at school,” Underhill said. “And the smiles on their faces, no matter the outcome.”
The game that sticks out the most in her mind after coaching 14 years was last year’s Championship Softball Game during the Summer Games.
“At Noble we’ve always been so close to the gold medal,” Underhill said. “It was my last year as a teacher and my Noble kids actually won the gold medal. And then my kids said, ‘This one’s for you Ms. Underhill.’”
Underhill said the kids are awesome and the participation seems to keep growing more each year.
“My dream job is one day we're gonna take these little guys and they're gonna go to World Games or National Games — that's our dream,” she said.
For parents like Christie Goldston of Purcell, the Special Olympics give a chance for their child to shine. Goldston said she has a typical child and a non-typical child so they are involved in several activities outside of the Special Olympics, but the games give her non-typical child something special.
“This gives my non-typical child a chance to shine and show everybody, grandma and grandpa, that he is special and he has different abilities than everybody else. It’s his thing, and grandma and grandpa and mom and dad all scream for him because all the other times we’re screaming for brother,” Goldston said. “So this is his time to shine, it’s all about him.”
Competing in the Special Olympics has also given her son a better attitude and more confidence in a social setting, she said.
“Especially when they do the unified part when his brother gets to be a part and they’re partnering together on the same team. There’s a better bond between them,” Goldston said.
It also helps her son bond with other children his age out of the classroom.
“It’s been a great, great experience for us,” she said.
Volunteer Game Director Sherwood Taylor said the Special Olympics are a special time of year for the children. He said he became involved 20 years ago for selfish reasons, his daughter.
Taylor has been involved with Norman’s Winter Games for the 18 years it has been around, though. He said his daughter participated in the games not only because of the competition, but because she was able to see friends.
“(The games) are just as much fun getting first place or sixth place,” Taylor said. “It’s a unique time of year for them.”
Ham said outside of competition, it gives children a chance to socialize. She enjoys seeing everyone from all over come together every year to compete.
“The Special Olympics is like a big family,” Ham said. “Everybody is fitting their arms around these children so they can experience the joy of sports competition.”
The Games are completely volunteer driven involving not only parents and schools but volunteers from organizations and corporations. Athletes at the Games are from 14 areas in Oklahoma and competed in aquatics, basketball, bowling and volleyball over the weekend. Competitors range in age from 8 to 80 or older as long as the individual is physically able.
For more information about Special Olympics Oklahoma, visit sook.org.
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