Special Olympics unites community

Basketball players show off their talents and smiles

Eddie O’Neill/Daily Mining Gazette Kreed Sternersen, center, is all smiles after scoring a basket at the Special Olympics Unified Basketball game on Friday at the Hancock High School gym. Joining him in the celebration are Raymond Wang, left, Lynn Heinonen and Sadie Biekkola, right.

HANCOCK — The large grin on his face told only part of the story. Kreed Sternersen had just scored his second basket of the game and was garnering high fives left and right up and down the court.

“He is really good at basketball,” noted teammate Mikenna Nolan.

On Friday afternoon at Hancock High School. everybody was good at basketball, and the packed house of fans along with the pep band made sure the players knew it.

The Hancock School District hosted the fifth annual Special Olympics Unified Basketball Game at its high school gym. It included not only special-education students from Hancock but also from the Copper Country ISD classroom as well as L’Anse School District. In total, there were close to 30 players who participated in four quarters of basketball with a halftime in between.

“This gets better every year,” noted organizer Danielle Thoune, who is the special education and peer mentor teacher at Hancock. “I was a little nervous as this had been scheduled in March originally but was snowed out,” she said. “But the enthusiasm of the crowd here today just shows how supportive our community is some three weeks later. It is Bulldog spirit through and through. “

The two teams were divided by red and white jerseys. Along with three of the Special Olympic athletes on the floor for each team, there were two girls from the high school basketball team helping with the flow of the game and making sure everyone got on the floor and had the chance to play. Two boys from the Bulldogs varsity basketball team served as refs.

Along with a packed set of bleachers which included family, friends and students from the middle and high schools, the gym was decorated to the hilt with individualized banners honoring each of the players. In short, it felt like and looked like homecoming week. According to Thoune, that’s the way it should be.

“There is a lot that goes into the decorations,” noted the Bulldogs’ Spirit Club leader, Mallory Sporalski. “Our art classes made the banners and posters, and we have students who are in charge of putting them up and tearing them down.”

After leading the crowd in the national anthem, the Hancock High School pep band kept the gym alive with songs in between quarters.

After a full 32 minutes of hoops, it was time to hand out the trophies.

“Our STEM classes used our 3-D printer to put together these unique trophies for each of the kids,” Thoune explained.

Among those receiving a trophy was Jesse Shelifoe.

He was all smiles. He summed up the spirit of this annual event the best as he said, “We are famous. The fans love us. This is so much fun.”


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