Marana High School’s Special Olympics basketball team faced an unlikely opponent — a squad of officers from the town’s Police Department — in preparation for an upcoming basketball competition.
Wednesday’s game was the last of three scrimmages organized by coaches to give the athletes experience playing against other teams and in front of a crowd.
“We have a really great group of kids, and they really work well together,” said Keri Stanford, a teacher at the school and one of the team’s coaches.
The team has been practicing since the start of November. They beat the Marana Fire Department and a team from Mountain View High School earlier this week, and lost by only two points to the Police Department.
What the students seem to enjoy most about the sport is the camaraderie.
“We work as a team out here, we help each other, we support each other,” said ninth-grader Michael Predier. “We play to have fun, and we work hard.”
The team, clad in blue jerseys and yellow socks, has improved tremendously since its first practice, coaches and students say.
“It was way different. They were not passing they were just running with the ball not shooting at all, and now they are they’ve improved a lot,” said Elizabeth Angulo, a teacher and one of the team’s coaches.
Richard Harrison, a junior participating in the sport for the third year, says he’s been working on trying to sink three-pointers. He practices shooting at a park on the weekends.
Harrison made one in the scrimmage against Mountain View on Tuesday and scored the first basket in Wednesday’s game.
“I think I should be like other kids. I should be active, more able to do more things in the real world,” he said. “And the reason why I like basketball so much is there’s more people teaming up. We can help each other.”
Thirty-three teams made up of 400 athletes ranging from middle-school age to adults will compete in basketball, basketball skills and cheerleading competitions at Saturday’s event.
The coaches reached out to the police and fire departments to see if any members would volunteer to play against the team to get them ready for the competition. About 10 officers answered the request.
“When I saw the email about this. ... I don’t really participate in sports, but I felt like this would be a good opportunity because I get to come out here and play with my fellow officers and we get to play for a good reason,” Officer Kevin Litten said.