GARRETT, Ind. (WANE) – DeKalb County Special Olympic athletes suited up for a game Wednesday night that might have been unique to them, but thanks to students and volunteers, made the athletes feel like they were superstars playing in a high school basketball game.
Twenty-six players made up the two teams, which played between the junior vasrsity and varsity girl’s basketball games at Garrett High School.
“They’re going to get announced just like we do,” Alaina Creager, a senior on the Garrett girl’s basketball team, said. “They’re going to get the lights turned down, that’s how we do it at Garrett.”
Creager is a member of the school’s Athletic Leadership Council, which got the idea to host the athletes earlier in the school year.
“Anybody playing a sport wants to be noticed,” Creager said. “We want a big crowd, and these athletes deserve it. They work really hard.”
With the game taking place between the two high school games, the players were able to play in front of a large crowd, with a student section, a pep band, and cheerleaders.
“It was just great to play in front of the crowd,” Ashlyn Heller, who is in her second year with the DeKalb County Special Olympics program, said. “Hearing them cheer my name was awesome.”
Heller, 24, said the large crowd made her nervous at first, but that quickly went away.
“If I’m being honest, I was just trying to impress the cheerleaders,” Allan Sanders, who scored four points in the game, said.
The game consisted of two 12-minute halves, with a running clock.
“It was awesome,” Chad Grimm, another player, said. “I was shocked. I wasn’t expecting so many people.”
Parents in the crowd were happy to see the school hold the game for their children.
“It was either you’re smiling so hard, or you’re half crying because it’s so neat to do this,” Kari Minch, who had a son play in the game, said.
Organizers said the youngest player was 13, while the oldest player was close to 60.
“Our kids never get to play in this atmosphere,” Rob Allen, one of the game’s coaches, said. “This atomosphere will match their effort because they play hard.”
The game was a fundraiser for the county’s Special Olympics program. The high school gave half of the money from ticket sales to the organization.
Wednesday’s game was the kick-off to the athletes’ season. The players have several other games and tournaments over the next several weeks, including a statewide tournament which begins in March.