Two years after the last Special Olympics basketball tournament, the Jaguars came back strong, beating Reagan 59-2 and declaring themselves champions over the district. Underneath the all-star players and coaches lies more than a simple win on the court. Principal Gary Comalander came out to support the team.
“It’s no doubt about the fun they get to have since they have not been able to do this for a couple of years,” Comalander said. “Now we get to see the joy from two years ago come out again is the best thing about today. Excited for the Jags and all the kids to compete.”
Madison High School Special Olympics coach Joseph Daxer, like most people involved in the organization, was originally nervous about the outcome of the program.
“It was actually really hard to get started again. I think people were just so used to being apart from each other,” Daxer said. “People were so used to not interacting in the way basketball makes you interact.”
Still, Daxer, with the help of students and their families, brought the program back to life by focusing on the very thing it was built upon: fun.
“At first it was a bit of a slow start, it was hard to get the team together. Originally we had two or three people sign up, so we were not even sure if we were going to have enough people to play. It was not just the athletes that were kind of on edge, the parents were still a little nervous, things like that,” Daxer said. “So it was really hard in the beginning, asking ourselves if we’re even going to have a team, are we going to play, how is this going to work out. As the season got going all the kids started spreading the word around. Then they got more and more excited and more kids wanted to play.”
Senior David Payne, Johnson’s basketball team captain and Special Olympics basketball coach, was glad his players could experience this tournament again.
“It’s super awesome. I was not expecting this at all, and to have anything at all is amazing. I mean we pretty much got back to normal,” Payne said. “I know the kids love it; they have not had anything like this during high school, so being able to do this is amazing.”
Brian Hollis led his team to the victory.
“Felt very good, especially making those three’s, it felt good. The team feels great, they’re doing good. It’s been a long day, this has been awesome, I can’t do this without them,” Hollis said. “Can’t do it without Zoya or nothing. We beat Reagan, we did the job we came to do. We knew we could.”
“It’s like the excitement has been slowly building, and we are just so excited to be back here doing this again,” Daxer said.