Troy Schattenkirk lined up for a free throw, a shot he has practised again and again. He focused on the hoop, bounced the ball — and missed, with the ball ending up in an opponent’s hands.
It wasn’t over for Schattenkirk, however, who quickly turned the play back in his favour, stealing the ball and sinking a layup that sent fans into a frenzy at Pacific Way elementary.
“Our coach (Jordynn Denness) called a timeout and she said, ‘The next time you come out, get into your positions and go hard.’ Schattenkirk said. “She said, ‘Don’t be scared to get on your checks and steal the ball.’ So that’s what I did. That’s what happened.”
The 28-year-old Penticton winger with autism scored 20 points to secure a 43-19 win for the Thompson-Okanagan Special Olympics basketball team during a quarter-final game against Fraser Valley on Saturday morning.
“This is my first time watching a basketball game and I was like, ‘Oh, I might have to come more often,” said Heather Semchuk, who was cheering on son Kent Plettl from Kamloops.
Assistant coach Patrick Wilson attributed the team’s win to a full-court press.
“We feel good about our performance in this game,” he said.
While some players could give the Thompson Rivers University WolfPack a run for their money, others, like 18-year-old Ethan Sun, aren’t in it to win.
“We want to form as a group and work together,” Sun told KTW.
Wilson coaches in Kelowna and only just met half of his newly formed team. Thompson-Okanagan athletes were brought together from Penticton, Kelowna and Kamloops for the BC Winter Games, selected by their respective Special Olympics coaches to represent the region. Six regional teams are competing.
“Special Olympics basketball is really just starting to get going in the Okanagan region over the last three to five years,” Wilson said.
One of two Special Olympics events at the BC Winter Games, basketball rules have been altered to suit the needs of those with diverse abilities. The game has been shortened and you won’t find a 30-second shot clock counting down above the court. There’s no rule on subbing and referees consider the player when making a call for minor infractions like double-dribbling or travelling.
Give athletes with diverse abilities the opportunity to prosper and they do, Wilson said.
— BC Games (@BCGames1) February 24, 2018
“We work to play with their strengths and we work around their disabilities, but at the same time we give them the opportunity to shine,” he said. “That enables and empowers them.”
But it doesn’t always run 100 per cent smoothly.
During the game between Thompson-Okanagan and Fraser Valley, a call was made by a volunteer Kamloops referee against a Fraser Valley player who took too long to toss the ball into play. She was visibly shaken from the call after the offiicial cited the five-second rule.
“There’s no five-second rule,” came shouts from the sidelines.
The referee reversed his call, but it was too late for the player, who made her way off the court and would not return to the game for a full quarter. When she did return to the sidelines, she sat on the bench and got her shoulders rubbed before returning to the hardcourt.
“Any time you have Special Olympics, you have to be flexible in regards to understanding if they [athletes with diverse abilities] can get on the court,” said Leah Briault, Special Olympic basketball chair for the BC Winter Games.
Supports are in place at Pacific Way. There’s a designated quiet room for athletes and therapy dogs are on hand — fluffballs that could be seen roaming the school hallways when not needed by athletes. Specialty personnel include B.C. Children’s Hospital nurses and physiotherapists. Paramedics have also been on site.
The supports are enough to ease the minds of parents Laura and Dave Hender from Quesnel, whose 14-year-old son Matthew, who has autism, joined his first sports team in October. He is in Kamloops as part of the Caribou-North East team.
Communication with the coach has brought additional piece of mind for the parents as they manage the separation.
“The whole thing. Having to come on the bus, stay at a school, eat meals with other people. We were freaking out,” Laura told KTW. “But he’s doing great. He’s wearing a uniform, which bothers him … We’ve just noticed his confidence. We’re blown away by how independent he is this weekend. It’s pretty cool.”
Briault coaches the Kamloops Special Olympics basketball team and cancelled Saturday’s practice due to the Games, telling her players to instead come and watch their three teammates who made the Thompson-Okanagan squad. Most of the team was in the stands cheering on the three players from Kamloops — Plettl, Josh Trudell and Aaron Lansdowne.
“It was awesome,” Lansdowne said. “We are family.”
Many of the athletes have been playing multiple sports together for years, either on a team or competing against one another. It has built an inclusive community among athletes with diverse abilities in Kamloops, the Thompson-Okanagan and British Columbia, which was evident when a Fraser Valley player was bumped and fell during the game.
Kamloops’ Plettl reached down to his opponent, calling the player by name, and offered a hand.
“It’s team sportsmanship,” Plettl said.
The Thompson-Okanagan squad would not go on to win its afternoon contest against Vancouver Coastal.
“Valiant effort from our team against a very strongly build team,” Wilson said. “We were proud of them.”
The Special Olympics basketball final will be played on Sunday at 10 a.m. Pacific Way elementary. The Thompson-Okanagan squad will play in the bronze-medal game at 8:30 a.m. Medal presentations will take place at 11:30 a.m.
Did you know?
Female and male athletes ages 14 to 35 with diverse abilities share the court for Special Olympics basketball during the BC Winter Games.
The Games also feature Special Olympics figure skating.
Paralympic sports differ from Special Olympics in that Paralympic athletes have only physical disabilities, not intellectual ones.
Across the province, 4,600 athletes are registered with Special Olympics B.C., 72 per cent of whom are ages 19 to 59. Youth programs can take in kid as young as two years of age.