Before tipoff of his team’s first game in the Seymour Noon Lions Club Special Olympics Basketball Tournament, Jackson County Tornadoes coach Bobby Hanner shared a simple message.
“Win or lose, we’re having fun,” Hanner said.
After lineups were announced, Montana Casto jumped tip for the Tornadoes against the Monroe County Hornets.
Throughout the game Saturday at Seymour Middle School, the eight members of the Tornadoes gave it all they had on both ends of the court, putting up contested shots on offense and double-teaming on defense.
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In the end, the Tornadoes struggled on offense against a tough Hornets team.
While the final score didn’t favor the Jackson County squad, they were upbeat afterward, knowing they still had another game to play later Saturday. They wound up winning that game 27-18, defeating the Decatur County Bobkatz.
“I like just hanging out and making friends and trying to win,” Casto said. “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose. It’s just a game. You just come on out and have fun.”
The 34th annual tournament consisted of 15 teams from southern Indiana. There also was a special skills contest for those unable to participate in competitive basketball levels.
Elliott Daniels of Seymour was the most experienced player for the Tornadoes. This was his fourth year participating in the tournament.
“I love the game of basketball, and I love doing Special Olympics and meeting new friends and encouraging other friends to do this,” he said.
Having family and friends in the stands cheering him on made a difference, Daniels said.
“I love all of the people that come out and support us family-wise and friend-wise because I’m not from around here, but I’ve met a lot of my friends up here and got a lot of good friends up here now,” the Hanover native said. “They are like family to me.”
Daniels said he practices when he can and also likes going to watch high school basketball games.
“I don’t practice as much as I would like because of work and being busy doing other things,” Daniels said. “But I just love playing the game whenever I get a chance.”
Daniels encouraged his friend, Casto, to play this year. Casto, who lives in Seymour, said he played in the tournament a few years ago, but he had been away from the game since breaking his foot.
“I had been out of Special Olympics for a while to let my foot heal,” he said. “But I’ll come out here and play and do the best I can, meet new people and have fun.”
Casto said he likes everything about basketball, from running down the court and shooting to playing defense.
The best part about the tournament, he said, is playing with his teammates.
“They are really good,” Casto said. “They are my best friends. I’ve known them for a while, and they asked me if I wanted to come back. I’m back and having a good time.”
Dale Hickman, who lives between Brownstown and Bedford, said this was his first time playing in the tournament. He found out about it through Ron Lowe, assistant coordinator of Special Olympics in Jackson County.
His highlight against the Hornets was making a basket in the third quarter.
“I can’t believe that shot went in,” Hickman said with a big smile. “It was amazing.”
He said he likes practicing with his teammates.
“I just want to meet some new people and am trying to get some more experience for myself,” he said.
He also plays basketball with his brothers.
“We just go out and have fun, just get outside for a little while,” he said.
The Tornadoes started practicing in November, going at least once a week. Hanner and fellow coach Paul Kedrowitz focused on fundamentals.
“It’s just an opportunity to get them to learn something and not sit at home,” Kedrowitz said. “I want to see them do their fundamentals and get back in the game. It just makes it healthier for the athletes, and they learn to get along with others.”
Lowe said he likes seeing the players compete in the annual tournament.
“Normally, they don’t get a chance to do things like this,” Lowe said. “They don’t get a chance to do it in the schools, and this gives them a chance to be like every other kid.”
Lowe lauded the Lions Club for keeping the basketball tournament going.
“That’s something that we look forward to every year because we know that there is a stable group of teams that will come down every year regardless,” he said.
Lowe said it’s great to have Special Olympics available for people with various types of intellectual disabilities.
One of his best memories was attending the summer games in Terre Haute for the first time.
“There was a girl who ran the 100-meter dash, and it took 30-some seconds,” Lowe said. “Everybody was like, ‘That wasn’t very good.’ I said, ‘Guys, she was running with a lead rope. She was completely blind.’ To see somebody with that big of a disability be able to do that just like every other kid was neat because nobody really noticed she’s got a lead rope. They just watched an athlete run.”
For information about Special Olympics in Indiana, visit soindiana.org.