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Friendship front and center at Special Olympics basketball tournament

Goshen News - 1/12/2020

Jan. 11--WAKARUSA -- Comradery and competition met fun and friendship at NorthWood Middle School in Wakarusa Saturday morning as teams from across Indiana arrived to compete in the Elkhart County Tip-Off basketball tournament sponsored by the Elkhart County chapter of Special Olympics Indiana.

"This is our locally hosted county tourney that's for the entire state, so we have counties from down south, we've got counties like Dekalb and Porter coming over, and, yeah, it's just a big day for us," said Jen Yoder, assistant coach of the Elkhart County RedHawks team at Saturday's event. "It's really our first tournament of the year for five-on-five teams, so everybody's really excited."

According to Yoder, the Elkhart County chapter of Special Olympics Indiana is a place for individuals to participate in year-round sports training and competition. The group currently helps over 175 local athletes with intellectual disabilities develop fitness, build skills, learn and demonstrate courage, experience the joy of success and belonging and become involved in their community, she explained.

Sports currently offered through the organization include track, swimming, softball, bowling and basketball.

"And these tournaments, the kids, they just love them. I mean, all of our athletes do," Yoder said. "And this tourney actually counts for qualifications for state. We have to get so many games in in order for them to qualify for area and sectionals and all of that. So, this is the first one that counts for that."

Saturday's seven-hour tournament served as both a place for healthy competition and an opportunity for meeting new friends and reconnecting with old ones.

"We see a lot of the same athletes every year, so they look forward to seeing their friends from other counties," Yoder said. "And we have tremendous volunteer support here, not only from parents, but Goshen High School basketball players are here this morning, for example. They're doing all of our reffing and score keeping this afternoon. And then NorthWood basketball boys will also be here this afternoon doing the same thing. And then we have a local Girl Scout troop here as well who presented colors for us. So, there's just tons of support all around."

And for Yoder, events such as the Elkhart County Tip-Off tournament hold a particularly special place in her heart, as she herself is the mother of two boys with intellectual disabilities, both of whom were participating in Saturday's tournament.

"Personally, I love these events," Yoder said. "I've got two children involved in Special Olympics, and they're on my team. So just seeing the confidence that they have gained through all this, the skills they've learned, the teamwork, and the life skills that they get from working with other players, it's just amazing."

Elkhart County RedHawks team member Hugo Macias was quick to agree.

"It's a lot of fun," Macias said of the tournament.

As for what he liked most about getting to participate in Saturday's tournament, Macias kept it pretty simple.

"I just like trying to make some hoops," he said with a smile.

For more information about the Elkhart County chapter of Special Olympics Indiana, visit www.elkhartso.com.

John Kline can be reached at john.kline@goshennews.com or 574-533-2151, ext. 315. Follow John on Twitter @jkline_TGN.

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