By Elizabeth Goussetis
The Reynoldsburg High School Special Olympics basketball team will soon play their first game in proper uniforms.
After several years of cobbling together three generations of old girls’ varsity uniforms, an article on the school website prompted enough generous donations from individuals that the team had enough money to buy a new set.
“I’ve been really appreciative of how this district has supported them, even the bus drivers volunteer to drive them to games so we don’t have to do fundraisers,” said Crystal Ott, a special education teacher at the high school who started the team.
At a recent practice, players divided into two groups. On one side of the fieldhouse, some of the students were working on shooting drills. On the other side, a full-court scrimmage was going on. Josiah Lyles, 15, was directing his teammates to their positions as he dribbled the ball down the court. Jeremy Kirk, 21, called out to his team to get back on defense, clapping to encourage everyone to hustle.
Male and female students play together and all ages and abilities are accepted. Because students can participate in special education until age 21, that puts the age range of the players from 14-21. Coaches Ott and Jacob Perkins, who is also assistant athletic director, use this to the team’s advantage.
“When we show up to a game, we don’t know what the other team will be like,” Ott said.
The coaches then put players in the game whose skills are a good match for the other team’s players. Last year, every player got to play in at least one game.
Several of the students don’t play in the games because of safety, so they work on their skills with the team during practice.
The team practices during the school day on Fridays.
“It’s fun, it gets my energy out, and its fun to play with the other team members,” said Samantha Marik, 19.
Courtney Conley, 18, plays on the basketball team and on the Special Olympics track team in the spring.
“I love playing basketball,” Conley said. “I like being with all my friends, and I kind of enjoy it. Plus, we have the best teacher and coach, Miss Ott.”
Ott started the team after one of her students moved in from the Columbus, where he had played on the school basketball team. She learned that Columbus City Schools has a league of Special Olympics basketball teams. Ott asked to join the league and the team now plays games every other week during the season. The school also now has a track team in the spring. She recruited Perkins to coach the basketball team. Retired varsity track coach Dewey Hammond coaches the track team.
“It brightens my day just to be around them. When they play and compete, it is the essence of what sports should be about,” Perkins said. “There is something very pure about it and it has reminded me of why I fell in love with sports at an early age.”
Corey Beal, a 17-year-old senior who plays on the varsity football, basketball and track teams, helps out with the Special Olympics team.
“I like playing with them and showing them new stuff,” Beal said. “It’s a different experience. They’re fun to be around.”
Beal recalls how excited the teammates were when they won a recent game.
“It was fun,” Beal said, “Showing them they can do more than they think they can.”
The team plays at Columbus Alternative on Feb. 5, and their next home game is Feb. 19 against Beechcroft.