Category: Human Interest- Olympics

The Champaign Flyers:
by Dr. Jeffrey G. Bettger, Alice B. McGinty, Brendan M. McGinty

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Special Olympics History 12
Special Olympics Philosophy 13
The Flyers 15
The First Practice--October 11, 1987 21
Skill Assessment Tests 22
Initial Misconceptions 24
Other Coaches 26
Typical Practices 27
Coaching Qualities 30
Brendan and Jeff 32
Motivation 34
Basic Skills - Orange Team 38
Individual Adjustments - Orange Team 39
Basic Skills - Blue Team 40
Individual Adjustments - Blue Team 45
Scrimmages 47
Flyers Blue Team (coached by Jeff) 52
Flyers Orange Team (coached by Brendan) 59
Leaf Raking--November 14, 1987 74
Illini Practice--November 16, 1987 75
Flyers Orange vs. “Coaches”--December 11, 1987 76
Flyers Blue vs. Piatt/Illini Halftime Exhibition--December 12, 1987 79
Flyers Blue vs. Danville--December 19, 1987 82
Flyers Orange vs. Bloomington/Illini Halftime Exhibition--January 8, 1988 83
Flyers vs. Bloomington--January 14, 1988 87
Scott's Birthday Party 95
Flyers vs. Charleston--January 20, 1988 96
Flyers Orange Rematch vs. Coaches--January 29, 1988 102
District Tournament--February 6, 1988 106
Volunteer of the Month--February 10, 1988 114
Flyers Blue vs. Danville--February 15, 1988 115
Flyers Orange vs. Piatt--February 17, 1988 119
Tony Wysinger--February 24, 1988 121
The Road to Paducah--February 26, 1988 123
Banquet and Dance 129
Paducah: The Next Day--February 27, 1988 132
Going Home 138
Planning 139
Banquet--March 7, 1988 140
Rewards 146
Flyers Blue Team 155
Flyers Orange Team 155


Special Olympics likes to prove people wrong.
Twenty-five years ago, the world’s scholars told us that people with mental retardation shouldn’t run races longer than 200 yards. Today, we have athletes running the marathon.
Nobody believed that people with mental retardation could compete in team sports. The “experts” said that the rules, skills, and teamwork involved were too complex.
So once again, we set out to prove them wrong.
Today, Special Olympics athletes participate in a variety of team sports like softball, basketball, and floor hockey, working together to build strong, supportive teams.
The lessons of life can be learned on the court during a game by listening to someone else’s point of view, sharing the spotlight, or supporting someone who is backed into a corner. Special Olympics athletes, like any athletes, must learn to accept defeat gracefully, while also knowing when to challenge themselves and strive for victory. They learn to believe in themselves and to help others to believe in themselves.
These are the lessons that are learned in team sports, and these are the lessons that are enabling people with mental retardation to become active, contributing members of their communities.
The Champaign Flyers: The Story of a Special Olympics Basketball Team takes the concept of sports training one step further. The authors venture beyond the technical aspects of instruction to give real life examples of coaches and athletes using the drills explained in the book. This book discusses ideas that are not easily taught in manuals, like promoting teamwork, motivating athletes, and fostering leadership. It tells a story of a group of individuals with different personalities and perspectives who are brought together to become a focused team. The story chronicles practices, games, and tournament action as the coaches and team experience challenges and triumphs on and off the basketball court.

Special Olympics will continue to prove people wrong when it comes to underestimating individuals with mental retardation. We are grateful for the able contributions of people like Jeffrey Bettger and Alice and Brendan McGinty, who prove every day that Special Olympics is changing the world.

George Smith
Director of Sports Training & Education
Former Team & Unified Sports Director
Special Olympics International
October, 1994


Jeff: During our first season of coaching Special Olympics basketball (1986-87), Brendan McGinty and I co-coached one of the two Special Olympics basketball teams from Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. During this rookie year of coaching, we probably learned more about Special Olympics and about the players than the players learned from us. We had only the advice of the other two more experienced coaches, Walt Smith and John Rutledge, the advice of the program director, Alice McGinty, and our knowledge of basketball to guide us. The coaching manuals provided by Special Olympics suggested warm-up exercises and drills, but not how to motivate a team into playing a tight zone defense. We were also unsure how to handle the great diversity of personalities that we found on our team. What do you do with a player who will not pass the ball to teammates? Furthermore, we found that coaching during an actual game requires a special awareness of each player's physical and emotional state. A coach must be able to identify signs of fatigue and frustration, for example.
During our second season (1987-88), which is chronicled in this book, I continued to coach the Champaign-Urbana Flyers Blue team and Brendan took over the coaching duties for the Flyers Orange team. During this second season, we felt that we were much more effective coaches because of the experience we had gained during the previous year. Given the old adage that "experience is the best teacher," we have decided to write this book to help prepare new coaches and hopefully to provide new insights for experienced coaches. Although this book will contain descriptions of the drills that we used and ideas for conducting practices, Alice, Brendan, and I will concentrate on sketching a portrait of the players and the experiences that molded twenty-two individuals into two respectable basketball teams.
There have been several excellent books written about Special Olympics such as A New Kind of Joy, by James Haskins and Something for Joey, by Richard Peck. These stories have described the triumphs of special athletes in individual events such as track and field. The physical and emotional gains derived from such activities have been well documented. In this book, we hope to show that participation in a team sport, such as basketball, provides an unique opportunity for special athletes to satisfy yet another part of their lives--their social needs. Team athletics allow participants to experience first hand what it means to work towards a common goal, to earn a leadership role, to achieve peer admiration, and to share in comradery.
By telling our story, we do not mean to imply that we are the most knowledgeable coaches or that the Champaign Flyers are the only special athletes in the world. We are certain that many readers of this book who have coached a Special Olympics team before will feel that they could have written a similar book about their own coaching experiences. That is exactly the point that we want to make! We feel that all volunteers receive a "book" full of precious memories when they are willing to give of their time and talents to others.
For those readers who may coach in the future, our goals are to convince you that the only qualifications needed are 1) a basic knowledge of the game, 2) a deep concern for the athletes as people, and 3) an honest belief in the importance of the team. We also hope to relieve some of the apprehensions that new coaches invariably have during their first few practices with Special Olympic athletes. A new coach may be concerned about saying or doing something harmful to the athletes. That coach might also be concerned that the athletes will not be able to learn new skills. We believe that by being introduced, through this book, to the diverse personalities and abilities of the members of our two teams, new Special Olympics coaches will have at least some idea of what to expect from their own teams and individual players. We suspect that you will be pleasantly surprised at what these athletes can do!
For those readers who may never coach a Special Olympics team, we have several other objectives. First, we want to introduce these athletes to you as valuable members of the community; members who are capable of being productive workers and who are capable of the purest forms of sportsmanship, pride, and dedication. Second, we want to alleviate misconceptions about Special Olympics and its athletes. Third, we want this book to be a tribute to the supportive families and the dedicated professionals who help these athletes succeed in the non-athletic aspects of their lives. Finally, and most importantly, we want to share with you our feelings about the importance of involvement with programs such as Special Olympics.
We have chosen to write about our second coaching season (1987-88) because in that one season we experienced a full range of emotions, of personalities, and of athletic abilities; but most of all, we managed to have a lot of fun. We are also reasonably sure that the players learned something about basketball and about themselves. The coaches certainly did!

Jeffrey G. Bettger
Alice McGinty
Brendan McGinty

Chapter 1: Background

Jeff: "Let me win but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt." So starts every Special Olympics competition and so starts this story of the special athletes who made up the two 1987-88 Champaign Flyers basketball teams. Before beginning the account of our season, we will provide some background information about the Special Olympics program, the organization of the Champaign Flyers, and about ourselves--the coaches.

Special Olympics History
Alice: Special Olympics is a sports program for mentally retarded individuals which has gained international recognition and participation in a relatively short period of time. The idea for Special Olympics came about in the 1960's when Eunice Kennedy Shriver started a daycamp for people with mental retardation. She realized from that experience that the mentally retarded were much more capable of participating in sports and physical activities than was formerly believed. Based on the conviction that mentally retarded individuals could enjoy, learn, and benefit from participation in sports, Senator Ted Kennedy formed Special Olympics Inc. and named Eunice Kennedy Shriver as the organization's first director.
In July of 1968, Mrs. Shriver organized the First International Special Olympics games at Soldier Field in Chicago, IL. One thousand athletes from 24 states, Washington D.C. and Canada competed in swimming, and track and field competitions during this inaugural event. Since that time, Special Olympics has developed into the world's largest program of year-round sports training and competition for children and adults with mental retardation. Special Olympics now offers training in 22 Olympic-type summer and winter sports to athletes in more than 25,000 communities and in over 70 nations around the world. These sports include individual events such as track and field, swimming, skiing, and gymnastics, and team sports such as basketball, volleyball, and softball.

Special Olympics Philosophy
Since 1968, Special Olympics has reached more than 1,000,000 athletes ages eight and over. The mission of Special Olympics is, "to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for all children and adults with mental retardation, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy, and participate in the sharing of gifts, skills, and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes, and the community." By experiencing success in athletic competition, Special Olympic athletes are able to gain self-confidence and build a positive self-image. These positive traits may then carry over to the athlete's life at home and in his or her performance in the workplace or classroom.
Before the formation of Special Olympics, individuals with special needs had a less-than-fair chance at succeeding in competitive activities. Special Olympics provides athletes with organized athletic competition which is appropriate for their age and ability level and in which they can compete with peers of similar ability. This is accomplished by assigning an athlete to the appropriate competition division based on performance during previous competitions or by using standardized skills testing. Special Olympics offers such a diversity of activities that every athlete can find at least one sport in which he or she has the ability and interest to compete. For example, the frisbee toss, held at most track and field meets, requires only a flick of the wrist, whereas the sport of basketball requires a higher degree of mobility, hand-eye coordination, and strength. Each athlete, from the severely retarded to those with only mild disabilities, is given a challenge and an opportunity to succeed at his or her own level.
Within the Special Olympics organization, competitions are divided into International, National, Chapter, State, Regional, District, and Area meets. Teams are formed and practices are organized in communities through programs such as Park Districts, schools, and other programs serving the mentally retarded. Volunteers are used at each level, from the International Board of Directors (composed of volunteers from business, government, education, and athletics) to the coaches, scorekeepers, and officials who work directly with the athletes. The heart and drive of Special Olympics comes from these devoted individuals who volunteer their time and energy to make the Special Olympics program a possibility and a success.
In addition to the physical training, Special Olympics continues to promote the understanding and acceptance of the mentally retarded by the communities in which they live. It is hoped that through greater exposure to mentally retarded individuals, the general public will become aware of what these individuals can do (rather than what they cannot do). As a consequence of this new awareness, it is hoped that the general public will give these individuals more opportunities to become useful and productive citizens. This is one reason why Special Olympics appears on major television broadcasts and why so many volunteers are utilized in the Special Olympics programs. Public awareness is also accomplished by athletic mainstreaming. Mainstreaming involves encouraging the more skilled athletes to move from Special Olympic programs into regular sports activities in their schools and communities if it is their choice to do so.
The following quotation (from the Special Olympics International Informational Brochure) summarizes the Special Olympics philosophy: "Special Olympics believes that through sports training and competition, people with mental retardation benefit physically, mentally, socially and spiritually; families are strengthened; and the community at large, both through participation and observation, is united in understanding with mentally retarded people in an environment of equality, respect and acceptance." This philosophy is nicely restated in the remarks of Mrs. Brinegar, the mother of one of our team members.
Mrs. Brinegar: Special Olympics has given Charles:
*A chance to compete.
*A chance to socialize.

*A chance to have instruction in a popular activity such as basketball.

*A chance for recognition from peers, family, volunteers and community.
Probably central to his participation is the encouragement of staff and volunteers but also he has had success--won medals, learned new sports, won recognition for his efforts, and has a meaningful way to use his free time that is enjoyable and increases his physical fitness.

The Flyers
Jeff: The twin cities of Champaign-Urbana are located in central Illinois and have a combined population of approximately 150,000. From this population, 22 athletes made up the two Champaign Flyers basketball teams. Based on athletic ability, these athletes were divided into the Orange (Brendan's) team and the Blue (Jeff's) team. Players who began the season with a reasonable command of basketball fundamentals were placed on Brendan's Orange team and players who could profit from increased practice on the fundamentals were placed on my Blue team. The person most responsible for the formation of the 1987-88 Champaign Flyers was Alice McGinty, an energetic 24-year-old who generates a contagious positive attitude.
Alice: I began my college career floundering between many different majors, not sure what I wanted to do with my life. Journalism, folklore, and psychology were some of my pursuits. My mother, trying to help me decide between many career options, would occasionally send me newspaper articles describing different professions. One of these articles, focusing on Music Therapy, spurred my interest. I knew I enjoyed working with people and wanted this to be a part of my career. I also played the guitar and had an interest in music. In speaking with a Music Therapist, I was directed towards the field of Therapeutic Recreation. In this field, music was used as a therapeutic tool along with many other activities such as creative dramatics, crafts, athletics, and games. Because there were all interests of mine, I decided to do some volunteer work in the field and take some classes to see how I liked it. Obviously, things worked out well, as I decided to pursue a career in the field of Therapeutic recreation.
Many people are not familiar with the field of Therapeutic Recreation (also known as Recreational Therapy), as it is a relatively new profession. Therapeutic Recreation professionals work with special populations, who have physical, mental, or emotional disabilities, to help them develop positive leisure skills. A formal certification process is currently in place to assure delivery of quality services by qualified professionals. Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialists (CTRS's) can be found working in a variety of settings. CTRS’s may be found implementing recreational activities in a rehabilitation hospital to assist stroke patients in strengthening weak muscles. They may be found in a psychiatric hospital using cooperative games to help emotionally disturbed children learn to communicate, cooperate, and problem solve. They may also be found in a drug addiction center, teaching recovering alcoholics new ways to utilize their leisure time.
I enjoyed the variety of options available for jobs and felt that my creativity and variety of interests would be strengths which I could use in this profession. After graduating from the University of Illinois with a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology and in Leisure Studies with an emphasis in Therapeutic Recreation, I was anxious to put my training to work. I obtained my first "real" job in the field of therapeutic recreation as the Program Specialist with the Champaign and Urbana Park Districts' Special Recreation Program. It was through this job that I first became involved with the Special Olympics basketball program.
The Special Recreation Program employed several part time people and two full time people (Kathleen Scheltens and myself) to lead a variety of programs for the disabled individuals living in Champaign-Urbana. Kathleen Scheltens was the Program Coordinator for the Champaign and Urbana Park Districts' Special Recreation Program. She was also the Area 8 Coordinator for Special Olympics. Her responsibilities in that position included being a liaison between the Illinois Special Olympics headquarters and the head coaches of Special Olympics teams in Area 8 (consisting of several counties in central Illinois). Kathy spent numerous hours organizing area-wide Special Olympics competitions, and communicating all information about training, competitions, medical releases and other important issues to the head coaches of Special Olympics teams.
In the position of Program Specialist, my job responsibilities included developing, publicizing, and implementing a wide variety of special recreation programs for special populations of all ages in the community. Some of the programs which I was specifically in charge of included swimming lessons, afterschool programs, a variety of fitness classes, a summer day camp and Special Olympics programs.
As the Head Coach for the Special Olympics teams sponsored by the Champaign-Urbana Park Districts' Special Recreation Programs, my primary responsibilities were to organize practices and to prepare the athletes from Champaign-Urbana for District and Area competitions in various sports. In addition to the basketball program, I was responsible for organizing the track and field, bowling, and swimming programs. In the time since I have left the Special Recreation Program, a Special Olympics volleyball program has become available to the athletes as well.
My specific duties as head coach of the Champaign Flyers included recruiting athletes for the teams, making sure the athletes had proper medical permission (a Special Olympics medical form must be signed by a physician and by the athlete or parent every two years in order for the athlete to be eligible for participation), organizing practices, organizing practice games, registering the teams for district competitions and tournaments, raising money to pay for expenses incurred on away games and tournaments, and organizing the end of the season banquet.
Of all the Special Olympics programs for which I was responsible, the basketball program was without a doubt the most time consuming and expensive. However, it was also my favorite! Because of the limited number of athletes who participated on the two Champaign Flyers basketball teams, I had a chance to get to know the athletes, volunteer coaches, and families on a more personal level. The basketball season was intense; requiring a lot of time and effort from coaches and athletes alike. It was a program which the athletes took extremely seriously and which they spent a lot of off-season time gearing up for. Many of the athletes on the Champaign Flyers had participated together in the basketball program for several years and had developed into a close-knit group. I really enjoyed sharing in the excitement with everyone involved.
The season which will be chronicled in this book, 1987-88, was my second year as head coach and the second year of coaching for Brendan and Jeff. A brief description of our first season, 1986-87 will be given next. It was our experiences during this first season that set the groundwork for our successes in the second season. Most of the same players participated in both seasons.
Recruiting the athletes for the Champaign Flyers teams was easy. As I mentioned before, many of the players had been participating for years so I simply called the players from the last year's team and asked if they wanted to play again this year. The basketball program was also publicized in a seasonal brochure which the Special Recreation Program distributes to the community each season. In addition, I recruited several individuals who had participated in other Special Recreation and Special Olympics programs and who I felt would enjoy and benefit from the basketball program.
In previous seasons, there had only been one Champaign Flyers basketball team. After successfully recruiting some new athletes, it was obvious that there were enough players to form two teams for my first season as head coach (1986-87). The next step was to find coaches for the teams. John Rutledge and Walt Smith, who had been coaching the team in the past, both expressed interest in continuing to coach. I had also mentioned to my husband, Brendan, that I was looking for volunteers to coach Special Olympics basketball.
Brendan is a sports fanatic and had expressed an interest in coaching Little League baseball or other youth sports in the past. I had seen Brendan work with children and other groups of people and knew that he was a natural leader as well as a good teacher. Brendan had spent many hours helping me improve my skills in bowling, softball, and basketball (which were sports we enjoyed participating in together and which he enjoyed beating me in). Brendan has the natural ability to make people feel at ease and to explain himself well. He is able to use his intelligence and sense of humor to make learning fun and simple. Brendan also spent his first few years of college working on a degree in elementary education before deciding to pursue a degree in history. I knew that Brendan could be a tremendous asset to the Special Olympics Basketball program as a coach. Knowing that Brendan was busy with college classes and other interests, I did not know what to expect when I mentioned the possibility of coaching to him. However, Brendan enthusiastically said that he would like to give coaching a try.
Brendan: I was in my third year at Illinois, majoring in history, when Alice asked me to get involved in coaching Special Olympics basketball. She knew that I was a big basketball fan and played a lot of pick-up games at the school gym. I honestly did not know what to expect, but I volunteered anyway because I was anxious to be involved with an organized basketball program.
Because my primary professional interest had always been computers, I never really crossed paths with Alice's professional interests until Special Olympics basketball. Just before I got involved with Special Olympics, my life basically consisted of going to class occasionally (I was not the model student), being a newlywed with Alice, playing hoops (basketball) at the gym, and working on computers. Little did I know then what an enormous impact coaching these athletes would have on my life. Besides helping me to understand Alice's occupation better, coaching the Flyers was a great leadership experience for me. The Flyers are a great group of people who I will never forget.
Alice: Last, as the season was about to begin, I received a telephone call from a student named Jeff Bettger who said that he was new in town and was interested in coaching. I was delighted at the possibility of having four coaches (two for each team).
Jeff: After coming from Colorado to enter the University of Illinois as a graduate student, I soon realized that I was only meeting other graduate students. While looking at some of the memorabilia that I had brought with me to Illinois, I found a ribbon. This ribbon had designated me as a volunteer for a Special Olympics track and field meet which had been held two years before at the University of Denver. The fun that I had on that day encouraged me to volunteer as a scorekeeper for the Colorado Special Olympics State Bowling Tournament the following year.
As I looked at that ribbon in Illinois, I decided to become involved in Illinois Special Olympics. Because of my love for sports and my flexible schedule as a graduate student, coaching a Special Olympics basketball team seemed to be the perfect opportunity to have fun, to meet people from the community, and to coach athletes on a long-term basis, rather than only meeting them once a year at a state tournament. So, after first contacting the Illinois State Special Olympics office, I was given the telephone number of the Champaign Park District and from there was eventually put in contact with Alice McGinty.
Alice: During the first several practices, we assessed the skills of the players and then divided the players into two teams according to their ability level. The coaches then divided themselves between the teams, deciding that John and Walt would coach the team with more advanced basketball skills (the Orange team) and that Jeff and Brendan would coach the more moderately skilled team (the Blue team).
Jeff: This first season was a great experience and a big success. Both teams played in several games during the regular season, the District Tournament, and a big tournament held in Paducah, KY at the end of the season. Brendan and I learned a great deal about coaching Special Olympics basketball (and about Special Olympics in general) throughout the season by watching Alice, John, and Walt.
Alice: During our second season together (the 1987-88 season which will be the focus of this book), John and Walt were unable to coach due to time limitations. Both were in charge of or associated with several other Park District and DSC programs. Jeff and Brendan decided to coach again for a second season. They both expressed a sense of dedication to these athletes and also felt that they could coach the teams with even more expertise using the experience that they had gained during the past season. I agreed. We had all learned a lot during our first season together. The athletes and I were excited to have Brendan and Jeff back as coaches. Jeff asked to coach the Blue team again, and Brendan looked forward to the challenge of coaching the Orange team. Both teams looked forward to becoming better individual players and to reaching new heights as teams. And so started the 1987-88 season.

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