Hononegah Special Olympics wins State Basketball Championship


Besides being part of the state championship team, these athletes also won Ron Knisley Spirit of the Games Awards for good sportsmanship and leadership.

Hononegah Special Olympics basketball team went to Bloomington-Normal for the 2022 State Basketball Tournament and came back to Rockton as champions.

At the end of February, Hononegah Special Olympics won the Region A basketball competition in Byron, defeating the Opportunity House Lightning two times to qualify for the Illinois State Tournament. Other regional teams included RPS, Freeport, Belvidere, and Mabley.

On Friday, Mar. 11, 2022, Hononegah Special Olympics won the State Basketball Tournament championship. The team included Christopher Akerlund, Colin Fitzgerald, Nathan Markley, Karina Mincemoyer, Braeden Parker, Riley Peterson, and Jocelyn Vertiz. Other teams in the state tournament came from Napierville, Oswego, and Bradley-Bourbonnais. 

Special Olympics Illinois offers 13 state championship sports competitions. In 2017, Hononegah's unified basketball team qualified for state. Teams in that program include students with and without disabilities. Special Olympics also sponsors Winter Games, Unified Track and Field, Summer Games, State Golf Tournament, State Tennis Tournament, State Softball Tournament, Unified Soccer, State Flag Football, State Floor Hockey, State Bowling, and Fall Games.

Special Olympics State Basketball usually lasts for three days during the second or third weekend of March in Bloomington-Normal. In a typical year, about 1,900 athletes, 550 coaches and 350 volunteers participate in the State Basketball Tournament. After the games of hoops and dinner, Friday evening's activities included a Victory Dance and laser tag, with family programs and sales of souvenir t-shirts and sweatshirts throughout the weekend. 

Illinois State University’s Horton Fieldhouse has hosted the tournament since 1975, when basketball became an official Special Olympics Illinois sport. The tournament expanded to include Illinois Wesleyan University’s Shirk Center in 2002.

This year, because fewer than 90 teams competed instead of the usual 140, the organizers decided to hold the event over two days instead of three. Hononegah could clinch the championship in one day because junior teams, high school teams and female teams played all their games on Friday, March 11. Senior male teams and individual skills competitions begin on Saturday. The Young Athletes program uses the individual skills competitions to provide a friendly transition into the traditional Special Olympics program. The shorter schedule also gives COVID less chance to spread.

Special Olympics Illinois is a not-for-profit organization offering year-round training and competition in 18 sports for more than 23,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities and 13,000 Young Athletes ages 2-7 with and without intellectual disabilities. Special Olympics transforms the lives of people with intellectual disabilities, allowing them to realize their full potential in sports and in life. Special Olympics programs enhance physical fitness, motor skills, self-confidence, social skills and encourage family and community support.

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