Over 400 athletes flocked to Lipscomb University for the Special Olympics Tennessee Basketball State Tournament on March 10 and 11.
Special Olympics is the world’s largest sports organization for people with intellectual disabilities. Forty-two teams medaled in local and regional competitions across Tennessee to qualify for the tournament.
The teams, made up of all ages from middle school to 71 years old, were separated into 10 divisions based on skill level. Four divisions were denoted as “Unified,” allowing up to two non-disabled partners to be on the court for each team. The round-robin tournament was held in Allen Arena, McQuiddy Gym and the Student Activity Center.
Teams represented all parts of Tennessee, coming from as far as Memphis, Chattanooga and Hawkins County.
Special Olympics Vice President of Sports Sean Stake estimated that there were at least 100 coaches and volunteers at the tournament.
Christian Robinson, a former partner and first-time coach, led the Maury County Jokers to a second-place finish in the Blue Division. Robinson teaches physical education at King’s Daughters’ School in Columbia, Tenn., where many of his players attend school.
King’s Daughters’ School is a special-education school for individuals from 7 years old to late adulthood with developmental disabilities.
Robinson was a Unified partner with the Jokers until this year, when injuries pushed him to coaching. As a physical education teacher, he was used to playing with his team, but coaching was an adjustment.
The Jokers led down the stretch of their final game— playing for the Blue Division gold medal— but turned the ball over multiple times in the last minute and lost by one. It was a tough loss.
“The most important part to me is, even when they lose, don’t get down,” Robinson said. “A loss is a loss. We still got another game to play. Just tell ‘em to have fun, too. It’s all about having fun, it’s not about winning.
“Of course they were hurt, I’m hurt too from the one-point loss, because we should’ve won, but I told them just have fun,” he added. “And they did great.”
Christopher Hawkins, power forward and rebounding machine on the Jokers, said his favorite player was Kevin Durant. Hawkins said his favorite part of the tournament was the opportunity to play against different teams than what he was used to.
A parent in the stands summed up the importance of Special Olympics as a whole while watching her daughter play.
“The thing about these kids is their parents were probably told they would never be able to do any of this.”
More than winning and losing, that’s what Special Olympics is all about.
Photos by Whitney Smith