inclusivity and friendship; Yuma Special Olympics basketball team prepares for area hoops tournament

YUMA, Ariz., (KYMA, KECY) – Coming together as one for a sole purpose: inclusivity.

We here at News 11 Sports spend a lot of time bouncing around and capturing moments and highlights for our local high school sports teams – from highlight reel goals to championship runs.

But something that may slip through the cracks in this community lies the Special Olympics.

Over the next several months, we will feature teams and individuals involved in the Yuma Special Olympics – from the court to the field and even in the pool. All superstars in their own right.

When you walk into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints on 16th street in Yuma on Monday nights, all you see is smiles.

A whole lot of smiles, and the game of basketball. Balls bouncing, rims rattling and cheering for an hour each week.

“It’s very rewarding. it’s awesome. As you can see I really enjoy it,” said coach Mary Nielsen. “It’s a lot of fun and to get them ready in this sport.”

Nielsen, who volunteers her time to help coach this team along with John Stratton, spend their time guiding athletes with special needs. This group, hitting the basketball floor.

“It’s pretty fun, we got a good group of guys. I enjoy basketball. It’s a good workout,” Brian Murphy said while laughing.

For Murphy, it’s all about the love of the game, even if he has some work to do on his jump shot.

“I just like to get out there. I’m not a good shooter,” Murphy laughs again. “But ya know, it’s for the fun.”

More importantly for Brian and all seven of his teammates, like two of them that call each other the “splash bros” it’s about the opportunity to fit in and do something together. Something they may have not been able to be a part of for most of their lives.

And that’s where the Yuma Special Olympics steps in.

“Inclusion is very, very important. They learn teamwork. They learn to work together,” added Nielsen. “And friendship. I think they form a lot of bonds with each other, and being part of something. Special Olympics is just awesome.”

For Nielsen and Stratton, the reward outweighs everything, knowing they can help guide these athletes in the time of their lives. Also being a major figure in their lives that care for them.

“I just feel a lot of joy and a lot of love for these kids,” said Nielsen. “They didn’t choose to be like this, ya know. But they’re just like anybody else. Believe me, they’re like anybody else.”

Just like anybody else. That’s what the Special Olympics organization does – paving the way for athletes with special needs to come together and compete.

“I’ve been doing this since 14-years-old,” said Christopher Anthony Troy. “I love it. This is my team right here. I like to do good.”

Over the next several weeks, the team will practice ahead of an area hoops tournament on February 25th at Cibola High School. A chance to play against some of the other teams in the area.

After that, a shot at state tournaments, and then even nationals. Some athletes from Yuma have even surpassed that level on the way to global Special Olympics in the past.

Just one more dream for them to chase after.

All that’s left is coming up with a team name.

“That’s been something that we’ve been working on because they’ve had a little bit of division there. We’re trying to decide on one,” Nielsen said laughing. “We’ll get there.”

But for now, there’s no score, just fun. A time to focus on what matters, while changing the lives of many.

And, a whole lot of friendship.

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