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3/20/2014 2:50:00 PM
Sometimes it boils down to how you play the game
We could all learn from Special Olympic athletes
Lakeland Lakers’ assistant coach Jennifer Varsik (center, kneeling) gives the players some reminders during a timeout against Menomonie as Melissa Baldwin (back, left) gives Richard Bennett (back, right) a high five while her father, head coach Brian Baldwin (back, center), looks on. Seated (left to right) are Charlie Bohmert, Beau Jorgensen, Kalindi Drewry, Cody Barnes and Ben Jerlinga.Jamie Taylor photographs

Lakeland Lakers’ assistant coach Jennifer Varsik (center, kneeling) gives the players some reminders during a timeout against Menomonie as Melissa Baldwin (back, left) gives Richard Bennett (back, right) a high five while her father, head coach Brian Baldwin (back, center), looks on. Seated (left to right) are Charlie Bohmert, Beau Jorgensen, Kalindi Drewry, Cody Barnes and Ben Jerlinga.

Jamie Taylor photographs

Richard Bennett drives around a Menomonie defender during a Special Olympics sectional game played last Sunday afternoon at UW-SP.
Richard Bennett drives around a Menomonie defender during a Special Olympics sectional game played last Sunday afternoon at UW-SP.

Jamie Taylor

Let me win...

No matter what sport…

Last weekend marked the culmination of basketball seasons for a higher number of teams then those who will continue to play. Be it the rapidly winding down high school girls’ season, college basketball’s rush of tournaments to anoint the chosen few who get a chance at Cinderella’s Dance or the race to the finish for professional hoops as it gives grudging way to the boys of summer.

Spring is almost here, the end of basketball in the rush of March Madness in all its forms and glory are all the proof one needs. For those who love the sport, the next few weeks is a visual feast for ravenous beasts. And it started last weekend as conference banners were bitterly fought over. It is for this time of year that some people buy monster LCD televisions or multiple sets. 

I have one friend who has four televisions for game days.

Among all the games getting underway across the United States at 2:30 p.m. Sunday were two teams in another tournament on a college campus. Instead of involving two squads of athletes trading their skill for a college education and maybe, just maybe, a chance to play basketball for a living, it was at the Special Olympics sectional, held on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

You always play to win.

But if I cannot win...

One of those teams, the Lakeland Lakers, was six players strong.

Not a lot of bench for Coach Brian Baldwin to work with.

But like any basketball team still playing during the second weekend of March, what they lack in numbers, or even skill, they more than make up in heart. As in, a love of playing the game for the sheer joy of it at its most elemental of levels, the way athletics used to be.

Because, when you take basketball – no matter what level the game – and distill it down to its basics, it’s still the simple principal of two teams trying to put a ball in a basket while keeping the other from doing the same.

Even in Special Olympics, the game boils down to the same basic game with the same simple rules. Fouls can, and are, called. Travels and double dribbles are common calls, but not all that common. While the game still uses the same elemental rules and basics, the officials will wait three or maybe four steps before blowing the whistle for a traveling violation, for example.

You don’t always come in first…

But having fun and making new friends is all that should matter anyhow.

The one thing that ties Special Olympics basketball with its counterparts going on at the same time all over the country is the drive, the hunger, the desire that often allows a player to find something deep within them and compete. Not for a chance at a college scholarship, or maybe to audition for a possible professional career on the national stage, but for the pure love of playing the game.

Once upon a time, before college scholarships and professional millions, there was the game that James Naismith invented, the one played by little kids anywhere there are balls and courts and kids who just love the game. It’s the same motivation that drives middle age men and women onto basketball courts to push their no longer young bodies past its new limits.

Let me be brave in the attempt...

If you have a fall,

For those of us who never had any particular skill at putting a ball in a hoop, the occasional pick-up game is a chance to work out the kinks in our backs put there by the long hours at a desk. I knew rather quickly that I was not cut out to be a basketball player the first time I set foot on a court in “Y” league, somehow managing to travel and double dribble at the same time. Although my skills did eventually progress to where I could drive to the hoop, I was strictly a recreational player. Put simply, I’m a much better basketball photographer than I am a player.

Or score for the opponent’s team,

Don’t give up.

I always admired those who loved the game enough to play the sport knowing it will never take them anywhere. Those players play the game for the love of it, which is probably why I tend to prefer watching and covering high school sports of all the levels I’ve covered. There is something about watching a player get better over the course of a season. No matter if it’s a starter or someone who rides the pine, getting a minute in here, two there, usually in games where the outcome is already decided. Those players stick with the team no matter how easy it would be to just say “I’m not good enough,” give up on the game and walk away.

Instead, refresh yourself where you left off.

Athletes always remember these three simple phrases.

So, yes, I could have taken part in the television hoopsfest of college students Sunday and seen some good games. Instead, I drove over an hour to watch six special members of our community play two basketball games. I also think that those six players deserve to get some recognition in the newspaper. Not because they are special because of their so-called disabilities.

No, they deserve the space in the newspaper because they represent us, where we live. They are the Lakeland Lakers.

Cody Barnes, Ben Jerlinga, Charlie Bohmert, Beau Jorgensen, Richard Bennett and Kalindi Drewry also deserve to get their names and as many images as I can shoehorn into this issue. It wasn’t because they played well in their two losses Sunday.

It is because they love the game enough to want to play it, no matter the outcome. They dive and scrap for loose balls and rebounds like any other basketball players. Except when the scrum is over, they help each other up, laughing and joking about it.

Because in this whole frenzy of basketball that is the last half of March, sometimes that aspect gets lost.

It is, after all, still just a game. 

And games are supposed to be fun.

“Let me win,

But if I cannot win,

Let me be brave in the attempt!”

~ The Special Olympic Oath Poem by Deanna C. Dilley

In the interest of full disclosure, the author must admit the following:

A. He grew up in Indiana, where basketball is a religion, not a sport;

B. He has a step-child who benefited greatly from Special Olympics.

Agree with my take? Think I’m off base? Leave a comment or email me at jtaylor@lakelandtimes.com.

Reader Comments

Posted: Saturday, January 31, 2015
Article comment by: Deanna Dilley

Hello. I am Deanna C. Dilley, the author of the poem within your article. I have multiple physical and developmental disabilities. I am a Special Olympics of Ohio athlete, currently participating in track & field in the spring/early summer and soccer in the summer/early autumn. I also go bowling on Saturdays from September through April with another special needs organization called Friends Forever. I was 15 before learning I was eligible for Special Olympics. I'm very high functioning, so both school districts I lived in over the years also said no. It wasn't until 9th grade when my dad's co-worker told him that as long as his daughter had an IEP, she (I) was always eligible. I started out as an ice skater (figure skating), until multiple injuries forced me to quit at age 24.
I began writing on a regular basis when I was 12 (6th grade). My lousy childrens' short stories eventually over to poetry. Though I've attempted a couple of novels, my poetry is for sure a lot better. I've written over 400 poems (most on voicesnet.com), and have been working on several poetry. The main one is called "Special Poetry for Special People" and is written for and about people with various disbilities. Though maybe 95% of all my poems are fictional, there are a few which are based on myself, some of my friends/co-workers, and also some of the original children from the beginning of the Hattie Larlham Foundation based in Ohio. Two other collections for future books are tributes. One is for lifetime legends, such as Johnny Cash, Jim Henson, Rosa Parks, Annie Oakley, Florence Henderson, and Martin Luther King, Jr. The second is every day people who have made a huge difference in the lives of family, friends, neighbors, and even strangers.
Again, Thank you so much for sharing one of my most meaningful poems in this article about your own Special Olympian. Deanna C. Dilley

Posted: Sunday, March 23, 2014
Article comment by: Doug Carroll

Mr. Taylor you do the OPS sports staff proud. This is a great job and it's nice to see you putting your photography and writing talents together. Keep up the great work.

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