Ballenas takes first at Special Olympics tourney

Judging from the smiles on the faces of players, the third annual Special Olympics three-on-three high school basketball tournament was a resounding success, Friday at Isfeld Secondary in Courtenay.

The event — which started with five teams when Vanier was the host in 2017 — showcases the athletic abilities of student-athletes with intellectual disabilities. This year’s tourney grew to nine teams. Isfeld and Vanier each had two sides, as did Ballenas of Parksville and Alberni District Secondary School. Nanaimo’s Dover Bay Secondary also competed.

“Really fantastic to see that the schools have all jumped on board and are growing their programs,” said Michelle Cruickshank, community development manager at Special Olympics BC. “Everybody’s excited to look at bringing back more next year. Lots of returning players. We’re seeing great improvement in development.”

Ballenas Whalers #1 beat Dover Bay in the first-place game, and the Vanier B Ball Masters beat Isfeld #1 in the battle for third.

“The majority of the team has been together the entire three years,” Isfeld coach/lifeskills teacher Kari Bennett said. “They’ve learned to play together, they’ve improved together, and they’re really supportive of each other, which is the whole thing as far as I’m concerned.”

Practising and playing basketball has boosted the confidence level of Bennet’s students. They’ve learned to play a game as a team, and learned to deal gracefully with winning and losing.

“Those are skills that they really have struggled with in different ways,” Bennett said. “Over the three years, they’ve learned to accept what’s going on in the court. They’re encouraging of each other, so they’re learning to support each other’s skills. Honestly, it’s so less about winning and losing. I don’t think they even recognize it any more.”

That said, her players are recognized as a team at Isfeld, and attend the school’s athletic banquet.

Students at the host school helped run the tournament by way of reffing, scorekeeping and timekeeping — and by cheering on their teams.

“The school has really wrapped their arms around us,” Bennett said. “It’s a pretty amazing event for the school.”

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