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Special day at Special Games

Everybody was all smiles when Lydia Jo Horton scored Saturday (Painted Barn Media)

I feel truly blessed.

I’m lucky that I have a career I truly love that gives me a chance to interact with a supportive community. After over 10 years of covering sports locally, I still enjoy telling the stories of our local athletes – whether its documenting their achievements, catching a team at its peak or, in the best of times, being on the sidelines when something special happens.

Over the years, I’ve always had the pleasure of covering something truly special – the Special Olympics and Special Games. Seeing kids and adults living their dreams of being stars on the court or dominating track and field events is truly heartwarming and I’ve always wanted to do more when I’ve covered in the past.

This morning, I finally got a chance to step off the sidelines and step into the action. Maybe I should’ve just decided to stay behind the camera.

The Warren County Sports Authority became the latest organization to find out the Special Gamers who call Pioneer Community Church their home are unbeatable on the hardwood. We lost 62-10 – and I was shocked it was that close.

From the very start, I realized we were hopelessly overmatched against the Special Gamers. They had the speed, the skill and, most importantly, the desire to win. I’ve never enjoyed getting my butt kicked more than against the Special Gamers.

Every basket was an ovation – and there were plenty to celebrate. They came at us in waves, with 22 players ultimately getting into the game for the Orange and Yellow teams. I’m pretty sure every player scored too – either showing off their splendid touch from deep or weaving through our defense to finish with ease around the basket.

The teamwork was always on display too. So many times, I would get shielded away from the basket as Special Gamers made sure I couldn’t get my hands on the ball or a shot. They played the game the right way – right down to letting us know they were winning.

Ever played a team that will trash talk you, then smile when they do it? I found out how much fun it is Saturday. Kids were zooming around me, telling me they were going to take the ball, then picked it off before I could come up with a comeback.

By the time I got back on defense, the ball was going through the hoop and they were smiling while running by me once again.

Those smiles are what it’s all about. The Special Gamers love basketball and love winning – good thing they are amazing at both. They were having a ton of fun and we were too.

I can’t begin to thank Holly McBride and the many, many event helpers who make the Special Games happen. When I approached McBride a few months ago about playing, they welcomed the WCSA with open arms. After the game, all the Special Gamers were there to greet us, thanking us for coming and giving them some competition.

I don’t know how much competition we were, but I can speak for our whole team that the pleasure was all ours. We’re already trying to make plans for another game next season – maybe with a year of practice, the WCSA squad could keep it within 50.

There are so many things I’m going to remember forever from today – the many smiles, the good-natured trash talk and all the ultra-talented Special Gamers. But if I had to pinpoint one moment though, it came right before the game.

I walked into the gym and went to go warm up. Before I could get a shot up, Spenser Hill came running up to me. Spenser and I go way back – I’ve been covering him for years, whether it was his impressive pitching at the Civic Center, hitting 12 triples in a Jaycee Game or when he got to meet Kobe Bryant. He’s a fighter for sure, having battled leukemia and returned to playing sports after going through bone marrow transplants.

When he got to me, he said, “I remember you!” with a huge smile on his face. We talked about his time pitching in junior league and all those 3-pointers he hit in Jaycees. It was a great moment and the only validation I’ll ever need when it comes to doing my job.

But what I hope Spenser knows, and Layton Kirby, Kaden Pascal, London Pascal, Mathew Randolph, Devin Randolph, James Coates, Korbyn Smith, Addyson Womack, Charlie Fitch, Ethan Cherry, Wiley Madewell, Marcus Blake, John Madewell, Hudson Winfree, Anna Ming, Lydid Jo Horton, Sylas Bouldin, Evan Cary, Cason Reed and Taylor Lyle (the whole Special Gamers team) also know is that I’ll always remember them too!

Special Shoutout for Anna Ming

Anna Ming scores during Saturday's game (Painted Barn Media)

After our squad got smoked in the first game, we were able to hang around and watch the Special Gamers split into two squads and compete as well. It was a great time, which the lead going back and forth multiple times. The final score was 31-30, as thrilling as you could hope a great scrimmage could be.

While we were watching, Anna Ming really caught our whole team’s eye. She made an incredible play, picking up defensively at halfcourt and yanking the ball away from the offense. She wasn’t going to be stopped from there.

Ming rushed in and scored, then ran back up the court to meet Spenser, who was smiling and congratulating her for such a good play. She blew a kiss into the stands along the way.

A few years back, I got to meet Anna when she was swimming for the local team. It’s obvious from today that her shooting stroke is just as good as her swimming strokes.

Getting a victory

We were never able to get anything going against the Special Gamers, but we did have a chance to take on the coaches in the final contest Saturday. In that 12-minute game, the WCSA got to come out on top, winning 21-14.

I got very nostalgic playing against the coaches, who are all wonderful people who do so much each Saturday to make sure these games get played.

We're going to have to work on Ansley's shooting.

I was on the court with Kenny Smith, one of the first Pioneers I remember going to watch play at Charlie Dalton Gym as a kid. There was also my classmate Leanne Morrison, somebody I’ve probably seen play hundreds of times, but never played against. There were also former Lady Pioneers Grace Rains and Taylor Jones, both great athletes I was able to cover when they were in high school.

On Saturday, I got to beat them all because I had a good team.

Jason Walker was everywhere for us, Jason Jacobs cleaned the glass and Hannah Griffin showed off her outside shot. Even Ansley Mullican, the former two-time, all-state soccer player who may need just a little work on her basketball skills, got on the scoreboard.

For those players, as well as my brother Brett, Geoff Griffin, Ian DeArmond and Annaston McBride, I say thanks for coming with me and representing the Warren County Sports Authority.

I also want to thank the coaches, a group who had so much more assembled talent than we did. I get the feeling they did for us at the end what they do every Saturday for their Special Gamers, they allowed us to leave with a smile on our face.

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