Special Olympics Basketball Clinic encourages inclusion, peer bonding
Joplin Globe - 1/24/2020
Jan. 24--CARTHAGE, Mo. -- A new Special Olympics Basketball Clinic at Carthage High School is helping bridge the gap between student-athletes and special needs students who may often feel isolated or left out of recreational activities.
Carthage students demonstrated their support for their fellow peers on Thursday by volunteering for the clinic, where they partnered with their special needs peers who practiced their basketball skills in the high school gymnasium for a few hours.
There were plenty of smiles, high fives and words of encouragement to go around at the event, which drew more than 70 students from the high school, junior high and intermediate center. High school students Keira Lasley and Mackenzie Hoenshell organized the event.
Hoenshell, 16, a junior, coordinated the clinic and hopes to one day become an early childhood teacher.
"I find joy in doing things like this, and I enjoy the experience of working with kids of all levels," she said. "I think it's really awesome that we can include everyone in this."
The student-led clinic was also run by high school basketball coach Nathan Morris and both the boys and girls basketball teams.
Each special needs student was paired up with a buddy and completed a series of individual drills focusing on shooting, passing and catching. Their buddies helped facilitate the games and also kept score of the students' points. The all-inclusive clinic didn't leave a single special needs student behind and even had stations for wheelchair-bound participants and balls of different sizes.
Kelsey Stenger, a physical education teacher who's in charge of the Special Olympics program at the high school, said the school started a unified PE class this year, which gives the special needs students an opportunity to interact one on one with their other students.
The clinic is a spin-off of the class, and Stenger's goal is to see Special Olympics grow throughout the district. Stenger said the students really enjoy spending time with their special needs peers.
"This is our first clinic, and I'm sure we'll learn some things along the way," she said. "We have around 32 Special Olympics athletes here. I just took over, but my ultimate goal is to expand our program. Our high school kids are really great with our Special Olympics athletes. They really welcome them and are excited to hang out with them. Usually, it's a fighting match to see who I can get to help because my volunteer list gets too long."
Lasley, 16, a sophomore, is a member of student council and also helped coordinate the event. She has been working with the Special Olympics athletes since she was in junior high school and is enrolled in the unified PE course with Stenger.
"It helps their self-confidence hanging out with basketball team because they're considered the legends of the school," she said. "I think it's great to work with the special education students. I've seen the students grow a lot in the unified PE class. I think a lot of them have come out of their shell working with their buddies, and they're really improving their skills."
A Special Olympics track meet is held at Carthage every year in the spring, but Stenger said she'd like to have even more events offered to their special needs students. The high school has a Special Olympics basketball team that will play against Neosho on Saturday in its first competition of the year. The clinic was also an opportunity to get the Special Olympics athletes warmed up for their upcoming game.
Morgan Rominger, 16, a sophomore, dribbled the ball excitedly across the gym floor while wearing a bright smile on her face. Rominger is a member of the school's Special Olympics basketball team and said the students involved in the clinic helped brighten up her day.
"The students here mean everything to me, and I would be so lost without them," she said. "I usually have a lot of things on my mind, but after this, I think I'm going to have a great weekend. I couldn't do this without my friends beside me. I appreciate all of the support."
Lillian Towe, 17, a senior, was paired up with Rominger as her buddy and described it as a beneficial and memorable experience for everyone involved.
"It's so much fun, and I love Morgan," she said. "She's such a bright person. I think there are a lot of different school events that kids like Morgan get excluded from, so to have something special just for them to get to mix with the basketball players is really great."
Karlee Kinder, 17, a senior on the girls basketball team, said she volunteered for the basketball clinic because she wants to influence the student's lives. She also helped out with the annual Special Olympics track meet last year and described it as a rewarding experience.
"Just seeing the smiles on their faces, it brings joy to me, and I love helping out," she said. "I think it makes them feel like they're more normal because sometimes they may feel like they're different from everyone else, and it's important to include them."
Amy Stinson, a paraprofessional with Carthage Intermediate Center, thinks the Special Olympics Basketball Clinic is a great opportunity for special education students to develop their social skills with other people aside from their teachers.
"I think it's amazing, especially because they all get to interact with each other," she said. "I'd love to see the unified PE course come to the intermediate center, and I hope they continue to do these clinics."
Special Olympics Basketball Tournament
The Special Olympics Basketball Tournament with Neosho and Carthage will run from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at Neosho Schools, 511 Neosho Blvd. For more information, call Stevie Lain at 417-624-5505 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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