EL PASO — On an April weekend a local high school gym was full of energy and excitement as a group of adults with special needs prepared to participate in a basketball tournament.
The games were attended by members of local community centers and a crowd of some 200 fans roaring encouragement to motivate the teams to victory.
Participants are in a government funded program, Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), which allows persons with disabilities to participate and promotes healthy lifestyles that include cultural and social activities.
The Multipurpose CDBG Strikers is a group of special needs students who created a team as a part of the Special Olympics.The team is coached by Edward Gonzales. Participants with the local recreation center prepared for their first game of the tournament with smiles and determination.
Two teams from that center were able to participate and enjoy an awards ceremony after their tournament games at the recreation center.
“I’ve coached other teams before and it’s not so much that you’re helping them out but I personally like the challenge,” said Gonzalez, “I like the idea of doing something different and helping them excel considering their disabilities if I can make them just a little bit better mentally and physically thats what I like.”
Tanya Guzman a player on the Strikers team said that the coaching staff “is into it; they worked us hard; we had a good exercise.”
Gonzalez said early on it was tough for him to coach the disabled young adults. “Initially, the parents didn’t seem to take it seriously and after they saw me yelling at their kids almost every practice they realized how serious we were and they jumped on board and the support turned out to be very good.”
The participants are a part of a daily disability exercise program that allows them to stay active and be a part of sports, weight training, water aerobics, arts and crafts, and computer skills training. Also several field trips and social gatherings are planned by the participant’s parents committee to give them an opportunity to enjoy the city.
The CDBG is a formula grant awarded to the City of El Paso annually by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to improve the quality of life for low-to-moderate income families and neighborhoods in El Paso. Over $360-million have been allocated since 1975.
“Special Olympics Texas Area 19 athletes have been competing in basketball for over 30 years. The first competition back then was between two teams from the same school and was held after the annual Track and Field meet,” says Catherine Waradzyn, Special Olympics Area Director.
The tournament had 13 traditional five-on-five teams, three half court three on three teams, and two unified teams. Unified teams combine Special Olympic athletes and athletes without Intellectual disabilities.
“I think we exceeded everybody’s expectations, we won several games and we beat the best team, or what I think is the best team in the city. The organization was very surprised that we did it so I could live with that for now. It gets us ready for next year,” said Gonzalez.
According to Waradzyn this year’s Special Olympics was the largest and most successful tournament so far.
“I enjoy watching the athletes grow as basketball players. Many of our athletes do not get to participate in team sports and to see them progress from having minimal basket skills to being part of a team is very rewarding,” said Waradyzn.
“The best part is to see their reaction they were just happy, they know they did good and they could live with that, ultimately it was all about them,” added Gonzalez.
The Special Olympics brings together many athletic events for the individuals to participate in team or individual recreational and sporting events.
“To come out an experience, the determination, athletic skill, and joy that our athletes exhibit can be life changing,” said Waradyzn.