Category: Human Interest- Olympics
The Champaign Flyers:
Chapter 4: Players
Alice: In this chapter, we want to introduce you to the players' personalities and to their lives away from the basketball court. Just as with any other group of people, the players came from different backgrounds and had quite different personalities and interests. While I hesitate in using any type of label to describe the individuals who made up the Champaign Flyers, the use of descriptive characteristics may help to clarify the reader's understanding of the athletes. In order to be eligible for participation in Special Olympics, an athlete must be mentally retarded. Therefore, like all Special Olympics athletes, the players on the Champaign Flyers were classified as being mentally retarded. I would like to emphasize again that it is important to recognize the individuality of the players when reading about categories in which they have been placed. With that in mind, the following paragraphs offer a brief description of the levels of functioning of the athletes on the Champaign Flyers teams.
Mental retardation is defined as significantly subaverage intellectual functioning combined with an impairment in adaptive behavior (from Carol Ann Peterson & Peg Connolly, 1978. Characteristics of Special Populations: Implications for Recreation Participation and Planning or definition from American Association on Mental Deficiency). There are several degrees of mental retardation. Most of the athletes who were on Brendan's team were mildly mentally retarded (or educatably mentally retarded as it is sometimes called). This means that they learn more slowly than the average individual but they are able to grasp basic academic skills. They are usually able to perform semi-skilled or unskilled work and, as adults, can usually support themselves with the right amount of social and vocational training.
Several of the athletes on Brendan's team and most of the athletes on Jeff's team were moderately mentally retarded (or trainably mentally retarded as it is sometimes called). This term means that they learn more slowly than individuals who are mildly mentally retarded. They are still very capable of learning, taking care of themselves, and doing work requiring simple skills. Individuals with moderate mental retardation may require some care and supervision throughout their lives, but are able to learn and work with proper training and supervision.
In my opinion, the term "mentally retarded" has been used to describe people with severe mental retardation more often than people with mild mental retardation. It has also acquired a rather negative connotation over the years. Therefore, I feel that a term such as "mentally challenged" is more appropriate and descriptive of the players on our teams.
Many of the athletes lived, worked, and played with the help of several agencies and organization in the C-U area. The C-U Park Districts Special Recreation Program served the recreational neeeds of the disabled individuals living in the community. Fitness, crafts, and other special interest classes are offered to physically and mentally disabled children and adults. The Special Recreation program also provided interpreters for hearing impaired individuals and "buddies" to give extra assistance to disabled children who wanted to participate in mainstreamed Park District programs.
Developmental Services Center (DSC) is a large agency offering vocational and support services to developmentally disabled adults. They offer a vocational program in which the developmentally disabled work in a supervised setting. They also employ recreational therapists who organize Special Olympics activities as well as other recreational programs for the DSC clientelle.
Opportunity House is a residential institution for the developmentally disabled where several of the athletes lived. Piatt County Mental Health Center also served the needs of the disabled in the community and provided Special Olympic programs as well.
Teams from the different agencies compete against each other in sports such as track and field. However, for some of the sports in which participation is limited, such as basketball, agencies combine athletes to form a city-wide team. This was the case during the 1987-88 basketball season. Athletes from DSC, Opportunity House, and C-U Park Districts' Special Recreation Programs combined to form the Champaign Flyers.
Flyers Blue Team (coached by Jeff)
Alice: Vonna Barthelemy, a touchy, open, and very bubbly 50 year old woman, stood proud at 5 feet tall. She lived in a group home with Becky, and Keith. A group home is a supervised living situation in which several individuals live in a private residence (often a large house) under the supervision of permanent live-in staff who assist the individuals with the skills of daily living. Along with many of the athletes, Vonna worked at DSC in their supervised vocational program. Vonna was also involved in other Special Recreation Programs such as Fitness Club and Young Adults Club (a Friday night social club co-sponsored by DSC). She was especially interested in crafts, as she was always asking about upcoming craft programs. Although Vonna was not a particularly athletic person, she enthusiastically gave her best effort in everything she did and was involved in other Special Olympics sports as well.
One thing that will always stand out in my mind about Vonna was the night of the Paducah tournament banquet and dance. During the regular season, Vonna seemed to be trying so hard to play well that she seemed a bit anxious and preoccupied at times. On the night of the Paducah banquet, which was very close to the end of our season, Vonna decided to let loose. Besides laughing, talking and joking around during the banquet, she danced when the music began to play. Vonna asked everyone to dance that night and seemed to be having the time of her life. Near the end of the night, when the dance floor was crowded with many people having a good time, I looked around to see how our players were doing. At the front of the crowd, with an audience standing around her, was Vonna dancing and bouncing with both hands in the air and a grin from ear to ear. The next day on the drive home from the tournament, that grin was still there.
Alice: Becky Brown is a bouncy and friendly, yet temperamental, 26 year old. At 5'0" tall, she was the Flyer's cheerleader as well as an athlete on the team. Whether she was on the bench watching the game or playing on the court, Becky could always be counted on to jump up and down cheering after the Flyers made a basket or another good play. Occasionally during practices or games, Becky became frustrated or upset with herself or with another athlete and walked away from the situation which was upsetting her. She was responsive when approached by a coach or teammate and usually a good "heart-to-heart" talk brought her back to the court full of renewed enthusiasm.
Becky's energy and enthusiasm carried over into the other Special Recreation Programs which she attended as well. Becky participated in several of the Special Recreation programs and seemed to particularly enjoy Fitness Club, where she liked to jump rope and do aerobics. She lived in a group home with Vonna and Keith and worked at DSC. Becky talked about a past job at a restaurant and said that she would like to work in a restaurant again in the future.
It took a lot of courage for both Vonna and Becky to participate in Special Olympics basketball as the only female members of the Champaign Flyers. After the first several practices of the season, Vonna and Becky approached me, saying they did not want to be on the team because they were the only women. However, after a short pep talk, their enthusiasm was renewed. They appeared very proud of the fact that they were on the Flyers and talked about the team a lot during other programs. Both of them became an integral part of the team and their efforts during practices and games were commendable.
Alice: Dick Blume is an outspoken 35 year old who lived at home with his family and worked at DSC. Dick was enthusiastic about basketball (especially the Fighting Illini), Michael Jackson, and Glenn Campbell. As long as one was in agreement with his views, whether basketball related or otherwise, everything was fine. An opposing viewpoint was sure to bring on some comments from Dick, who seemed to enjoy a good debate. Dick stood 5'11" and appeared even taller because of his large stature and the proud way in which he carried himself. In some anecdotes which will be described in later chapters, Dick proved to us during the season that his talents went beyond a perfect imitation of the Jens Kujawa hook shot. Dick was a perfectionist who sometimes became frustrated when things did not go his way. His pride, intensity, and presence on the court were an important factor in driving his team to give their best effort during games.
Alice: Charles Brinegar was 34 years old and 5'7" tall. A true gentleman, Charles was poised, dignified, hard working, and always polite and concerned. Throughout the several years in which I have known him, I have never seen Charles lose his cool. He has handled every situation with patience and a soft spoken sense of humor. I got to know Charles well because he was a regular participant in Fitness Club and several other Special Recreation programs. He also participated in all of the Special Olympics programs. His participation always consisted of a mature, persistent effort in trying to improve his skills in whatever he was attempting. Outside of his recreational interests, Charles worked in a nice restaurant in downtown Urbana and lived at home. In recent correspondence with Charles, he wrote that he was taking a sign language class at a Junior College nearby.
Alice: Ed Cole was a caring, giving person who enjoyed playing basketball and liked to have fun. He worked for Food Services at one of the student dormitories at the University of Illinois, where his day started at 5:00 a.m. Like some of the other players, Ed lived by himself in an apartment, but had an apartment trainer from DSC check on him weekly. Eddie was 39 years old and one of the taller members of the Flyers at 5'10. He was a loyal participant in many Special Recreation programs and in every Special Olympics program which was offered.
Jeff: To save money, Eddie rode his bike to work rather than taking the bus. I always enjoyed the times when I would see Eddie riding home after work. He would be so focused on riding the bike and obeying the traffic laws that I never called out to him in fear of disrupting his concentration. The unfortunate thing about a book is that it is difficult to accurately describe a voice. What Eddie Cole said and the way he said them made him so likable.
Tomorrow is Dr. King's birthday. Yup, he was a good man. We are
going to have church service tomorrow. Gonna sing and everything.
Yeah, Dr. King's birthday. Gonna sing. I don't have to work during
Spring Break. Students won't be here so I don't have to work.
Brendan: The ultimate team player, Eddie took it upon himself to see that nothing disrupted team harmony. He was always friendly and never had a bad thing to say about anyone. When someone would get upset, Ed was the one to give him or her a pat on the back and say that it was OK. In addition to his other qualities, Ed made people laugh. My favorite line from Ed was when we were coming back from the Paducah Tournament. Jaime was driving one of the vans and went zipping by our other van being driven by Alice. As Jaime went by us, Ed said, "She's drivin' like a preacher!" That caught us a little by surprise as we all busted up laughing.
Alice: Zach Crowell could be called Mr. Personality. This fun-loving, carefree, and energetic 24 year old was always fun to have around. During tournaments and other social events, Zach quickly introduced himself to athletes on other teams (especially female athletes) and made friends easily. Zach was 5'2" and lived at Opportunity House, a residential Center for developmentally disabled adults. He worked at DSC. In spite of all his energy, Zach was always coming up with excuses for not running his laps at the beginning of practices. Some of his most popular lines were "my shoe's untied" or "I'm tired". Zach would much rather socialize and joke around. However, come game time he was always fired up and ready to play hard. Zach attended some other Special Recreation programs and Special Olympics events as well.
Jeff: During the trip to out of town games, Zach either asked to have the car radio on or he would bring his own cassette player. Jaime told me that Zach had numerous cassette tapes filled with music which he had taped off of the radio. None of the tapes had labels on them, but Zach could tell you which tape and which side contained a certain song.
Alice: Ernie Waters is a true character. He was so energetic that he could be called hyperactive and usually burst into a room like a whirlwind. He was a thin, wiry, bright, and talkative 19 year old, who was quick to give a hug to whoever was interested. Ernie was 5'9" and lived at home, though it was rare that he was ever there. He hung out on the U. of I. campus and could usually be found playing video games at the student union or at a pizza parlor. He seemed to know half of the students on campus by name. Ernie especially like to talk about his "girlfriends" on the Illini Women's basketball team and attended their games and practices consistently. Ernie only played in some of the Flyers' basketball games and did not come consistently to practices. However, his vitality added a lot to the team whenever he was there.
Jeff: Ernie had attended special classes in a Champaign high school, so he knew many local people. He had been a major factor on our team the year before, but this year he seemed more interested in other things. We decided to not push Ernie into coming. We felt it was best to just leave the door open for him. He understood that he could not be one of the five starters this year since he missed so many practices.
For some reason, Ernie always called me Brendan. As I was walking through campus on a cold night, I would hear a yell from across the street, "Brendan!" It would be Ernie wearing a light sweatshirt. He would come running towards me at full speed, give me a big hug, and try to pick me up showing off his strength. "How are you Brendan? Where are you going? Can I borrow a quarter? I'm hungry."
Alice: Randy Eads is a very softspoken, quiet young man. He lived in a group home and worked at DSC. Randy was 22 years old, 5'6" tall, and very slender. I believe there were many times when he came to practice, put forth his best effort and then left, all without saying a word to anyone. During games, even in the most intense situations, Randy rarely displayed any emotion. He was very stable and worked hard. Occasionally, Randy attended other Special Recreation programs such as Fitness Club and Young Adult Club, and again, quietly did his best.
Alice: Brian Weakly was the youngest member of the team, at age 13, and also the shortest, at 4'11". Brian is a polite and cheerful young man who earned the nickname "Bulldog" because this team name was printed on the sweatpants he wore and because of his facial expressions during intense moments of games and practices. It was easy to recognize that Brian's cheerful and friendly disposition came from his family, who were extremely supportive, cordial, and helpful throughout the season. The Weakly's were new in town but quickly became involved with Special Olympics. Later in the year, Brian participated in other Special Olympics sports such as track and field. Brian lived at home with his family and attended public school, taking some special education classes and some mainstreamed classes.
Alice: Brad Whittle was visiting our team from Alberta, Canada. He and his family were living in Champaign-Urbana temporarily while his father attended graduate school at the U of I. Brad was quick to become involved in Special Olympics. He was 19 years old and stood 5'1" tall. He had a friendly, upbeat personality and was a huge hockey fan. Brad also had a consuming interest in clocks. Whenever we visited a new place, he quickly pointed out all of the clocks. He lived at home with his family and worked at DSC. Brad's family was extremely supportive, friendly, and helpful throughout the season. Mrs. Whittle attended all of the practices and games and provided many rides when needed.
There was something special about Brad which made Special Olympics a particularly important experience for him. Brad's mother told me before the season began that Brad had a history of aggressive outbursts. These had become a problem before their move to Champaign-Urbana, occurring occasionally during work or school when Brad became frustrated. Mrs. Whittle was concerned about how Brad would react to being on the Flyers since this was a new experience for him. Since Brad did not focus his aggression on other people, we decided that it was safe to let him play with the team under close supervision.
Right from the beginning of the season, Brad really seemed to enjoy practices and thrive on both the physical activity involved and the social aspects of practices. In fact, Brad reacted so well to Special Olympics Basketball, his Mother said that his frustration tolerance and attitude at DSC and at home seemed to be improved as well. Early in the season Brad played on the periphery of the team, never moving too close to the action during games. As the season progressed, he appeared to become more comfortable in playing close to the action. During one game later in the season, Brad took a charge from a player on the opposing team. He was knocked down fairly hard and I worried about what his reaction would be. Brad stood up with a huge grin on his face and bragged with pride about his big play for weeks afterwards. Throughout the entire season, Brad displayed a very mellow temperament and had no problems at all with any type of aggressive outbursts.
Mrs. Whittle: Brad benefitted from participation in many ways. He improved his physical fitness by losing weight and increasing his endurance (he now plays floor hockey and his conditioning has really been an asset). Brad has a concept of teamwork thanks to his experience with the Flyers. He understands rules and he gained a sense of belonging to a group which held the same goals in view. At a time when he had been taken from a setting where everything was familiar and put in one in which everything was entirely new, the Flyers became a focal point for stability and relationships. His teammates would turn up at other events Brad attended and he met some at work as well. It was a calm spot in a very stormy year for Brad.
As a parent, I found that I (and our whole family) could share in this exciting and fun activity along with Brad. However, the team was something which Brad could call his own "thing". Something he succeeded at as his skills improved. In addition to his basketball skills, his social skills improved too! He still talks about going back to see his buddies! Who knows--maybe he will some day.
Flyers Orange Team (coached by Brendan)
Alice: Steve Cain was 29 years old and 6'2" tall. He never went anywhere without a smile. Steve was a softspoken, polite, and a very caring and giving person. He lived on his own and worked for his family's roofing business. Since Steve had his own car, he gave some of the other players rides to practices and games. Steve was always extremely reliable and helped out in any way he could.
Brendan gave Steve the nickname "Shoes" because of the wide array of basketball shoes which he owned. Every practice he seemed to show off a new pair. Steve also had a wardrobe of sweat suits that never seemed to run out.
Jeff: As a roofer, Steve had to work very hard for his money. We teased him a lot about his basketball wardrobe (and about the amount of cologne he put on after games), but I was actually happy that he had decided to spend his money on something constructive such as looking nice. His pride in himself and in the team spread to the other players on the team. His wardrobe also turned out to be an excellent public relations tool for the team. Steve had told almost every sports salesperson in Champaign-Urbana about the Flyers.
Alice: Steve was also very generous in giving gifts to the coaches. He gave all of the coaches Air Jordan jackets at the end of the 1986-87 season and, along with Steve Jacobs and Marvin Strader, gave me a pink sweat suit which I will keep forever--on the back they had printed "Foxy Lady Alice". They did not understand why I was too embarrassed to wear it to practices.
Steve's involvement in Special Olympics and his ties with the coaches were extremely important to him and a big part of his life. Steve and his family took a vacation to Florida each year during basketball season and we received many postcards while he was away saying how much he missed us and letting us know what he was up to. Also, year round but especially during basketball season, I received a multitude of visits and phone calls at work in which Steve, usually accompanied by Steve J. and Marvin, wanted to discuss an idea they had about the Flyers or just wanted to drop by and say Hi. Several times I found it necessary to remind them that my job entailed other responsibilities besides organizing the Flyers and that I could not spend all of my time talking about the Flyers. Steve, Steve J., and Marvin were all inseparable friends. They participated in Special Olympics basketball, and track and field together, and they also just hung out together. It is hard to imagine how many hours they spent thinking about and discussing the Flyers.
Jeff: Here are three examples of the importance that being on the Flyers had in the lives of Steve, Steve J., and Marvin. First, they were the unofficial scouts for the team. At least once a month, they told me about a great basketball player in a nearby town that I should try to recruit for the Flyers. They always seemed surprised when I did not drop everything and immediately try to recruit this person. Each time this happened, I explained to them that the more great basketball players we added to the team, the less time they would get to play during a game. It was fun to watch them think to themselves whether it would be better to play most of the games themselves, or to win more games without getting to play much themselves. Steve leaned toward winning more games, whereas Marvin and Steve J. were too competitive to want to sit on the bench. And so would end the discussion until the following month.
As another example of the importance of the Flyers to Steve, Steve J., and Marvin, they spent an enormous amount of their free time designing the official uniforms of the Champaign Flyers. The uniforms were to be covered from head to foot with stars, stripes, the team name, the player's real name, and the player's nickname. Last, Steve, Steve J., and Marvin also wrote the official rap song of the Champaign Flyers after hearing the Chicago Bears' Superbowl Shuffle. Here is exactly what they wrote.
Hello meet me people I am the Duck
how are you meet my friends people
we are the Champaign Flyers and
we didn't come to start no trouble
me and my brothers came to do
the Champaign Shuffle and show
them boy's how its done so come
and meet the wizard he'll fasinate
definsitate you because people
we are here to excite and
celebrate with you all and have
a good time while we are here
because we are the best and
are the compition for these boy's
and to depress and frustrate them
because we are the Champaign
Flyers and we came to start
no trouble we are just here to
do the Champaign Shuffle oh
yea come on people jump and
clap your hands carry on and
join us as we do the Champaign
Shuffle oh yea get happy and
help us do the Champaign
Shuffle because thats what we
are here for is to have a
good time and to do the
Champaign Shuffle oh yea
to do the Champaign
Shuffle oh come and help us
do it because we are not here
to start a problem we just came
to do the Champaign Shuffle.
written by the
Champaign Shuffle (Marvin, Steve, and Steve)
Alice: Steve Jacobs was a player who not many people knew well. While Steve C. and Marvin (who were his closest friends) seemed to understand every word he said, most other people had a difficult time understanding Steve because of his speech impairment (i.e., his words were mumbled and spoken too softly). The coaches and players knew Steve to be a friendly and reliable person.
Steve was 27 years old and 5'8" tall. He lived on his own in an apartment and worked for the University of Illinois Food Service providing food at one of the dorms. He usually walked to work throughout the year and, like Ed Cole, had to be at work very early in the morning. I remember seeing him on many occasions bundled up in a hat, coat, earmuffs, and the works, walking home from work in the snow. If I was in my car, I would offer him a ride which he always gladly accepted.
Steve always demonstrated patience and persistence in trying to make himself understood. As long as you were willing to bear with him, he kept trying to talk, use mime, or sometimes write things down on paper to try to make himself understood. He seemed very appreciative of anyone who was willing to take the time to listen to him and did not appear to get frustrated when he was not understood. Steve was so persistent sometimes in his attempt to communicate that there were several times when I started thinking that what he had to say must be something urgent or of extreme importance. When I figured out what he was saying, however, it usually turned out to be something like, "My aunt came to town this weekend" or "I'm going to get new basketball shoes this weekend."
Jeff: I am sure that many people who work with Steve or who see him around town do not take the time to get to know him because of his shyness and speech problem. Luckily, through the Flyers, I had the opportunity to learn what a dependable, intelligent, funny person he is. It is good that Steve J. and Marvin are friends because Steve's dependability and realistic thinking perfectly counterbalance Marvin's enthusiasm and idealism.
Alice: Marvin Strader was a charming and temperamental 25 year old who stood at 6'1". Marvin was everyone's special project. He was bright, talented, and charming, but at the same time was very easily frustrated, extremely competitive and temperamental. He demonstrated a great deal of potential both in his ability to play basketball and in other aspects of his life. However, Marvin expected himself to be able to play basketball like Michael Jordan and when he was unable to perform as well as he thought he should have, he got frustrated. Off the court, Marvin let his pride limit his potential. Marvin lived on his own in an apartment and had a young son.
Jeff: As the season progressed, I realized that the basketball program meant different things to different players. To some of my players, Special Olympics was a chance to participate in a physical fitness program and to interact socially with others who share similar life experiences. To Marvin, Special Olympics was a chance to receive the praise and respect (from the coaches and from the other players) that his pride needed so badly. Marvin seems to remember the jersey number of the best two players on every team he has ever played against. He also remembers how many points he scored and how many times teammates did not pass him the ball when he had what he considered to be a good shot.
After one disappointing loss, Marvin told me, "The only way I will play another game is if you guarantee that we will win." I told him that if he could guarantee that Magic Johnson would play for the Flyers, then I could guarantee we would win. As I watched the Orange team's games throughout the season, it seemed to me that each of the opposing teams had one overly-competitive player like Marvin.
Alice: When I think of the Champaign Park District, Special Recreation, and of Special Olympics, Mike Kearney is the first person to come to mind. Mike was not only extremely involved in all of these programs, he also possessed the many excellent qualities which these programs strive to promote.
Mike was 26 years old and 5'5" tall. His involvement in the Special Recreation Program ranged from an active participation in Fitness Club to being a volunteer counselor in camp Sunshine, a Summer day camp for disabled youth. Mike also did volunteer work for the Champaign Park District, helping out at one of the recreation centers several days each week. In Special Olympics, Mike participated regularly in all of the programs. Mike had a fun, spunky personality and a good sense of humor. In his volunteer work with Camp Sunshine, he was a perfect role model for the campers: motivated, upbeat, and enthusiastic.
Mrs. Kearney: All of the hundreds of hours other volunteers have given to Special Olympics have inspired Michael. He in turn has been doing volunteer work for the Champaign Park District for the last three years. He loves his work and feels proud of his efforts.
Alice: Being in good physical shape was extremely important to Mike, and he spent a large amount of time jogging, shooting baskets, and otherwise being active. As I drove from one recreation center to another during the day, I would see Mike jogging and shooting baskets in a school parking lot. I saw him quite a bit, so I know that he practiced long and hard.
Mike lived at home with his family. His parents were extremely involved and supportive in every aspect of his life. They were also able to respect Mike as an adult and gave him plenty of freedom and independence. The Kearney's positive influence was always very obvious as reflected in Mike's positive attitude, sense of humor, involvement and motivation.
Mr. Kearney: In order to assess the results of Mike's participation in Special Recreation Basketball, it is necessary to consider aspects of his developmental disability prior to his involvement in the program--in particular, his behavior patterns.
Mike had a congenital heart condition-- a septal defect and stenosis of the pulmonary mitral valve; this possibly was the cause of his mental dysfunction. At the age of ten, this condition was substantially corrected as evidenced by his endurance in Special Olympic Track events as well as basketball.
In his initial school year, Mike began developing a reclusive behavior with outbursts of belligerent actions, i.e., striking teachers, teacher aides and fellow students. This probably was engendered by the slings and slurs from his "normal" peers, which most disabled persons experience. The situation was exacerbated by inappropriate mainstreaming as an educable disabled child rather than as a trainable child (EMH vs. TMH).
After two years of this unfortunate placement he was correctly evaluated and placed in a TMH setting. This was in 1973-1974 at which time Mike was about twelve years old! All of these odious experiences were occurring during the critical formative years; his behavior and control had deteriorated such that there were nearly daily emotional outbursts. It is necessary to emphasize the dismal state of his emotions and behavior relative to all of his societal interactions in order to comprehend the outstanding role of Special Olympics Basketball in Mike's behavior modification.
He began participation in Special Olympics in 1975. For the eight years that followed, he competed in only track and field events which involved no physical contact and no team interaction. These individual events presented no situations that would trigger any adverse relapse in his behavior. Through the patience and excellent capabilities of the TMH teachers, Mike's behavior improved and in 1983, at the age of 22, he received a special diploma from High School.
When he started to play basketball in 1983, his activities were low key with little body contact--in fact he seemed to avoid "skirmishes" under the basket. Nevertheless, he was in the proximity of vigorous quasi-combative situations. In retrospect it seems that his exposure to these friendly "tussles" reinforced his behavior modification in that he learned to remain non-violent when confronted with commotion that could have caused a reflexive violent response.
Occasional rebukes by his coaches imparted a resiliency to his character so that he can accept criticism from others without retreating to a reclusive point. Mike has a "thin" skin, but negative comments from coaches that he knew liked him taught him that criticism was not a vengeful thing. Competitive sports are character builders for "normal" people but from Mike's case it can be seen that under the guidance of caring and competent coaches, Special Recreation can be an outstanding therapy.
Jeff: I find it interesting that during the seasons we were coaches, neither Brendan nor I knew about Mike's (or other players') behavioral backgrounds. Perhaps this was good because it ensured that we did not start the season with prejudices based on a player's past failures. The players knew that we expected each one of them to do their best, that we treated everybody fairly, and that we cared about each one of them personally.
Alice: Scott Murrell, an independent and athletic young man, stood 5'10" tall and was 24 years old. He and Mike have enjoyed a close friendship for many years. Like Mike, Scott was extremely involved in both Special Olympics and the Special Recreation Program, attending Fitness Club loyally and participating in all Special Olympics activities. Scott seemed to really enjoy participating in sports and worked very hard to stay in good physical shape. Scott was an intense, serious athlete who put a lot of work into everything he did and due to this effort, improved his abilities quite a bit. Scott was very proud of his accomplishments and liked to share his knowledge and enthusiasm for sports as well as his other interests. Having had the opportunity to do quite a bit of traveling, Scott enjoys talking about this and is an engaging conversationalist.
He enjoys crafts as well and gave Brendan and me several hand made gifts. Scott lives at home and works part time at Sears Department store. His mother, Helen, plays a very important role in Scott's life and is extremely supportive in all of Scott's involvements. She is athletic herself and acted not only as a mother but also as a coach for Scott in his athletic pursuits. Mrs. Murrell has done a great deal in helping to guide Scott to becoming an independent and mature adult.
Jeff: As with all the parents and players on the team, it was a pleasure for me to know Scott and Mrs. Murrell. In addition to information related to Special Olympics, I learned a lot about life in Champaign-Urbana from the Murrell's, and about the players on U of I sports teams who had grown up in the area. The barbecues and pizza parties which Mrs. Murrell, Mrs. Brinegar, and the Kearney's organized for the Flyers really helped bring the team together. Since I was going through graduate school at the time, I especially appreciated the many nice things they did for me personally. I felt that I had found a home away from home; people who will always be like family to me.
Mrs. Murrell: GO FLYERS! There is no way to imagine how different our lives would be without Special Olympics! There is no way to imagine how empty Scott's life would be without Special Olympics! I thank God (and the Champaign Park District and the Special Olympics organization and volunteers) that we did not have to face that empty life. Scott is twenty-five years old now and has grown up with the Special Olympics program. We have seen changes and growth in the program and we have seen changes and growth in Scott. Scott was born with Sturge Weber Syndrome which includes a very extensive birthmark covering most of his face, head, and neck--this makes him very visible and easy to remember. The excess blood vessels also cover his brain causing retardation and poor fine motor control on his left side and seizures and glaucoma. The first year and a half of his life, we saw many physicians in Chicago and at the Mayo Clinic. One advised us to have surgery to remove half his brain. Another physician advised us to "go home and learn to live with him". We chose the second option and live we have, thanks to Special Olympics!
Our family has always enjoyed sports. Scott attended his brother's Little League baseball games and his Junior High and High School basketball games. He went to his sister's softball games, University of Illinois athletic events, and to St. Louis Cardinal baseball games. How natural it was then for him to also have a chance to compete. Natural in his eyes but extraordinary in our eyes!
During Scott's first years of competition, Special Olympics meant track and field. Much of the training was done at home with family members coaching him. We went to the park to throw the softball, we timed him running around the block, and we drove around town trying to find a track that he could run on. As time went on, the program grew and new sports were added. Scott competed in bowling and swimming, and one year even tried cross-country skiing. Thanks to the Champaign Park District volunteers and coaches there were more opportunities for Scott to compete, more ribbons, and more medals.
Through athletics, Scott learned the importance of training, practice, hard work, and sore muscles. He developed a strong, healthy body with good endurance. He learned the joys of victory and the agonies of defeat. He gained self-esteem, pride, and confidence which have carried over into all of his life's activities. Although he has a speech impediment, he is eager to talk about Special Olympics events. This practice has improved his communication skills, which in turn has given him confidence to talk to people about other subjects, too.
Special Olympics has provided Scott opportunities to travel and to expand his knowledge about other Areas, States, and Nations. He has competed on the turf of Soldier Field where the Chicago Bears play; he has competed at Memorial Stadium where the University of Illinois Fighting Illini play football; and he has played basketball on the floors at Milliken University, Illinois State University, and at The University of Illinois. His first train ride was to the International Games in 1978 in Brockport NY, and his first plane ride was on the way home from those games. His sister and I drove but he went with the other members of the Illinois delegation--a proud time for him and a scary time for me.
Let me mention here that it has not always been easy to know how to be supportive without being interfering. It was not easy to turn him over to the coaches and feel confident that they would see that he would take his medicine, and get to the right event on time, and not lose his clothes. There were times in those early years when I was needed to help keep track of details, but I can never say enough about the wonderful men and women who have given their time and energies to help Scott learn responsibility, gain independence, and achieve success.
These rather lengthy background remarks have all been an introduction to the time when Scott had his first opportunity to be part of a team-- a basketball team. Although he was on a team in track and field, where teammates had learned to practice together, to develop friendships, and to cheer for one another, his competition was always as an individual. Being a member of a basketball team for the first time was a whole new ball game!
Scott had to learn that being a team member involves thinking about others. It requires him to practice hard to improve skills so that the team can benefit. If he cannot catch a pass, make a rebound, dribble the ball, spot the open man, or guard his opponent, then the whole team is hurt. If he is able to block a shot, make a basket, or make a defensive play, the whole team benefits. If he loses his temper, gets mad, and loses his ability to play under control, the whole team is hurt. If he is able to encourage his teammates the whole team is helped. The coaches are so important in this process and our coaches have been marvelous. A special bond develops each year between the players and the coaches. Scott and the other team members learn so much more than just basketball skills from these men and women.
There are many benefits that Scott has gained from being a member of the team: the physical fitness aspects of course; the responsibility of working together on projects to earn funds; the responsibility to show appreciation by giving a thank you note and gift to the coaches; the importance of teamwork; the importance of each role on the team; the need to control emotions; the value of practice, hard work, discipline, and obeying rules; the art of never giving up; the thrill of victory; the ability to accept defeat; the realization that commitment requires tough choices--he has had to give up Illinois games and family events to be at practices and/or games; and the guidance and friendship of men coaches--important to those on the team who still have fathers present, but especially important to Scott and others on the team whose fathers have died.
Jeff, Alice, Brendan, and all of the coaches preceding them have been marvelous! They have been patient, positive, affirming, and generous in their praise. Yet they have been "real coaches," demanding effort and hard work, and expecting results. They have disciplined team members when necessary but have managed to keep the morale of the team up. For Scott, nothing could match the experiences that have come from being a Champaign Flyer!
Jeff: In testimony to the excellent physical conditioning that Scott and Mike have achieved through athletics, I will recount a funny incident that happened during the previous track and field season. Both Scott and Mike had competed in long distance running events and had qualified for the Illinois State Summer Games held at Bloomington, IL. Before leaving for the State Games, the coaches and athletes met at the Champaign Police Headquarters for a big send-off.
A local television station wanted to get some action shots of the athletes, so the track team was lined-up and was instructed to run down some of the local streets with a police escort. All was fine until they had run about ten blocks. At that point someone realized that the police officers were so busy stopping traffic that no one was leading the pack to tell the athletes when to stop running. After an officer on a motorcycle caught up with the athletes, he found Scott and Mike leading the pack. When everybody had made it back to the police station, the coaches teased Scott and Mike, "Were you going to run to Bloomington?" They replied, "No one told us to stop, so we just kept on running!"
Alice: Rick Miller, an independent and amicable 39 year old man, lived on his own in an apartment and worked at DSC. Because of conflicts with his work schedule, Rick was unable to make it to all of the practices and games. Special Olympics basketball was extremely important to Rick in spite of these conflicts. He phoned frequently to ask about upcoming games and practices and to let us know which he would be able to attend. Whenever Rick attended any Special Olympics or Special Recreation program, he was always very quick and eager to be of assistance. He volunteered many times to help move equipment and supplies or do anything else that was needed. Occasionally I ran into Rick while I was running errands or walking to the park. He seemed eager for company and enjoyed talking about his job and about the Flyers.
Brendan: As with Ernie, Rick had been more involved with the team the previous year. However, it was a pleasure to have Rick at any games or practices he could attend during this season. He was the Flyer's defensive specialist. During a game, if the opponents had one particularly good player, I would tell Rick to guard that player. Rick would stick on his man like glue.
Alice: At a stocky 6'4" Keith Schweighart looked more like a linebacker than a basketball player. Keith, who was 28 years old, was the most athletic person on the team. He was somewhat rugged in his playing style, and because of this he fouled often. Keith, however, never tried to hurt anyone and was an extremely amicable guy, always smiling. He lived in a group home with several other players and worked at DSC.
Jeff: I got to know Keith better during the following Track and Field season. He talked about fishing and hunting trips, trucks, and a desire to live on a farm. He showed up late for one track meet wearing jeans, sneakers, and a t-shirt. Without warming up, he went out and won the mile race.
Alice: Rodney Martin was a leader on the team and a coach on the court. Rodney possessed excellent social skills and he tried hard to keep everyone working together. He was always there to pep up anyone who was feeling down. Rodney was 30 years old and a big 5'4". He lived on his own and worked in a restaurant. Rodney was very bright in his knowledge of basketball and otherwise. He enjoyed showing off his basketball skills on the court when he had the chance. Off the court, Rodney was friendly, warm, helpful, and always eager to lend a helping hand. He also held the record for the most hamburgers eaten at one time during a complementary lunch at the District tournament.
Jeff: Despite his rough and tough appearance, I found Rodney to be an extremely sensitive and caring person. One day at practice he was noticeably upset. He had just witnessed a motorcycle accident and was deeply affected by the sight of the driver's injuries. Rodney was also extremely hard working. He often held two to three jobs at the same time. As Alice mentioned above, Rodney was extremely bright. On a trip home from a game, he named more of the state capitals than the coaches.
Alice: Many people who have had a chance to watch the Flyers play remember Greg Winfrey. Greg was 27 years old, and stood at 6'1". Due to a head injury caused by a fall when he was very young, Greg had partial paralysis of his left arm and leg. He was able to walk well, though with a limp. His left arm was in a sling and not used much. Greg demonstrated incredible persistence and determination in playing basketball one handed; overcoming his physical disability by making up for it with strength (both physical and emotional), and hard work.
Because of his limp, Greg lost his balance frequently when running up and down the court during games and consequently fell quite a bit. He was able to get right back up and play hard every time he fell, even after knocking his head on the floor. He had an extremely tough mind set, was a competitive player, and took basketball very seriously.
Greg lived on his own in an apartment and attended school full time. He worked as a janitor during breaks. He participated in Special Olympics bowling, track and field, and softball as well. Greg was an excellent bowler, reaching scores over 200. He also was able to hit a softball extremely well one handed as well as field the ball. Greg was polite, unassuming (despite his size and strength), independent, and a devoted sports fan. He especially enjoyed basketball, both the Illini and professional hoops.
Alice: Richard Zink was 46 years old and playing as good as ever. He was 5'6" tall, lived on his own, and worked in a printing shop. At the start of the season, Richard told me that he had decided to retire and did not want to play anymore. However, after the first few practices and perhaps a few convincing phone calls from Brendan and some of the players, Richard changed his mind and decided to play for another season. We were glad he did.
Brendan: Richard was like an assistant coach at practices. I asked him to take a couple of the less-skilled free throw shooters on the team and work with them on their shooting form. As mentioned in Chapter 3, the players knew who to listen to when it came to shooting the ball. It was Richard! When we were messing around before practice began, he occasionally tossed the ball in from behind his back. And what a dribbler! He could lead an opponent to try to steal the ball from his right hand, but before the defender got there, Richard dribbled behind his back and took the ball to the basket, thus setting up an easy shot for either himself or for a teammate.
On defense, Richard was a sly dog. At 46 years old, his slight build and receding grey hair did not give him the appearance of being particularly quick. But he is! He would defend the opposing ball handler in a relaxed defensive stance, only to pounce on the ball when his opponent relaxed. Richard would then be off to the other end of the court shooting a layup before his opponent could figure out how Richard had stolen the ball.
In the words of coach Jeff, Richard is a phenomenon. He keeps himself in great shape, and can play the game as well as guys who are much younger. Throughout the season, Richard made great decisions on the court and always tried to include everyone in the game. If he had any faults, it was his unselfishness. He would give up a 5-foot jump shot in order to pass the ball back out to a wide-open Mike Kearney, who would then put up one of his patented rainbow jumpers. Richard is the epitome of Special Olympics basketball--a basketball fanatic who thoroughly enjoys the game. He took it seriously, but kept the importance of the game in perspective. He gave his all for the team and did not get openly upset when things did not go his way. He was an excellent role model for the team and was responsible for much of our success.
Jeff: Because Richard lived only one block away from me, I often gave him a ride home after practices. From watching his practices and games, I knew that he was a great player, but during these rides home I got to know Richard as the great person he is. He is soft spoken, caring, polite and a hard worker. "Richard, how was work at the print shop today?" "OK, we put together books for the hospital. My right arm was a little stiff at practice tonight from all of that binding. My bus was late today so I had to walk all the way to work."
Richard is also very proud of his athletic knowledge and abilities (as he well should be!). I learned that in his youth Richard would play basketball from 7:00 p.m. to midnight on many nights in the small city where he grew up. Clearly, he had dedicated a large portion of his life to basketball. I also learned that he knew all of the statistics for the professional and college teams, and that he could talk about basketball strategies and analyze games as well as any coach I had ever met. "Richard, how did your game go?" I would ask. "We got lucky. We didn't deserve to win. Our fast break was too slow and our zone wasn't working because we were letting them pass it inside" he would explain. I was amazed at how specifically he was able to recall many of the important events of a game.
I later found out that he was also an excellent softball pitcher (slow pitch and fast pitch) and was an avid baseball fan. Again, his insights and knowledge of the sport amazed me. "The Cardinals are going to have a hard time winning next year. Their starting pitching rotation is weak and their earned run average is too high. . . . and when they bunt, they need to keep their right arm stiff and just push the ball down the third base line with their left arm. See, you just PUSH it like this."
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