By Dedra Cordle
It was late in the fourth quarter and the basketball game between the Central Crossing Comets and the Franklin Heights Golden Falcons was nearing a tie.
For a majority of the game, the Comets had been playing with a deficit but they could sense that the momentum was finally on their side.
As Falcons player William DeLaRosa advanced the ball down the court, the Comets defenders took up their positions. Four were swarmed underneath the hoop, waiting to see whether the talented DeLaRosa would shoot and score once more. Another was further on the perimeter, trying to guard the speedster.
As he took the shot and missed, the rebound landed in the hands of Central Crossing freshman Jeremiah Hildebrand.
With his adrenaline pumping and his competitive spirit at the forefront, one might think he would do as most players would in that situation; take the ball up the court and see if his team could inch ever so closer to a victory against the Falcons. Instead, he did the opposite.
Upon realizing that opponent Beth Mitchell had made it to this side of the court, he tossed the ball to her and encouraged her to take a shot.
With a smile and the partisan crowd behind her, she did. And missed. But teammates and opponents alike kept passing her the ball until finally she made a basket.
Though the Comets lost the game by the narrowest of margins, Central Crossing Head Coach Mandy Corbett said that scene was a representation of the true spirit of the sport and the players who play in it.
“They all would like to win, but they’re not afraid to lose if it means giving their opponent a moment to shine,” she said, referring to her Special Olympics basketball team.
Though the Special Olympics have been with the South-Western City Schools District for nearly 15 years, the longest competing basketball team has been at Central Crossing.
The team was established in 2010 when the school was the sole site of a cross-category classroom for students with various intellectual and physical disabilities.
Having been involved with the Special Olympics team at Westland High School, Corbett thought it would be the perfect opportunity to create a new team. The students thought it would be the perfect opportunity to join.
“We had 35 kids playing on the team our first year,” she said with a laugh.
Two years ago, the unit separated when a second cross-category classroom was established at Franklin Heights.
Intervention specialist Erin Henschen thought it would be the perfect opportunity to establish their own Special Olympics basketball team. The students thought so too.
“Their support and involvement has been outstanding,” said the Golden Falcons’ head coach.
Since their team’s formation, the Falcons have only lost one game, and by one point, no less. Their overall success is a point of pride for the players.
“Yeah, we’re pretty good,” said sophomore Jamal Foster.
Every athlete has his or her own reason for joining their respective team. For Foster, he joined because he loves to shoot the 3 and compete with his older brother, Trumain.
For Comets player Hildebrand, he plays to have a good time.
“It’s really fun,” he said.
The parents of the athletes, however, have a different perspective of the organization and their children’s involvement in it. For them, it’s an opportunity for their child to make friends, get active and work on their confidence.
“Matt loves to walk around with his Falcons jacket on that has his name on it,” said parent Angel Blevins.
The game is also an opportunity to see them thrive.
Having been diagnosed with a rare disorder known as carbohydrate-deficient glycoprotein syndrome, doctors gave Matt a slim chance of ever being able to walk or talk. But each time he is out there hustling on defense and verbally encouraging others, it reminds both student-athlete and parent how the odds can be beat.
The season for both Special Olympics basketball teams will be wrapping up soon, but there are still a few opportunities to see them play. The Comets will hold their senior night at Central Crossing High School on Feb. 22 at 7 p.m. with a special guest announcer and the Falcons will host two home games later this month. On Feb. 20, they will play the Franklin County Flyers at 6:30 p.m. and on Feb. 28 they will host New Albany at 6:30 p.m. for their senior night.