HAYS — They eyes of the nation may have been on March Madness and the national collegiate basketball tourney, but thousands swarmed to Hays this past weekend for the 47th-annual Kansas Special Olympics State Basketball and Cheerleading Competition.
On Thursday night, March 19, the games of the Annual Special Olympics Basketball and Cheerleading Tournament got underway in Hays. Presenting Sponsor, the Kansas State Council of the Knights of Columbus was featured in the opening ceremonies that are highlighted by the lighting of the cauldron. Almost 1,500 athletes and coaches, including the Barton County Storm, were in Hays for the tournament.
The torch will be carried by members of the Kansas Law Enforcement Torch Run, with special assistance from the 2014 Most Inspirational Athlete, Emily Farrant, Junction City Pacesetters. When Farrant lit the torch on Thursday night at opening ceremonies, the games were officially declared open.
This year marks the 40th year the tournament has been held in Hays out of the 47 years of basketball for Special Olympics Kansas.
The tournament ran March 19-21.
There were over 40 Storm Special Olympians competing, helped by coaches, volunteers and other family members.
As for the contests, the cheer squad and four of the roundball teams were a part of the Storm, and all came home with awards.
The cheerleading team, coached by Erika Julian, claimed gold medals.
Storm ball players are divided into basketball teams based on skill levels from level four all the way up to fast break.
The level four team (the Hurricanes), coached by Stephanie Galusha took first in their bracket and brought home the gold.
The lower level three team (the Thunder), coached by Dale Hogg, took first place and brought home gold medals.
The upper level three team (the Tornado), coached by Rick Julian, also came in first with the gold.
The level two fast-break team (the Lightning), coached by Jim Boehnke, also took fourth.
In addition to the basketball games, several of the Storm athletes took part in a skills competition (including dribbling and shooting). Many of the competitors brought home medals and ribbons from these events as well.
• This is the 40th year the tournament has been held in Hays (1976)
• This is the 47th year SOKS has played Basketball (started 1969 in Winfield)
• State Council of the Knights of Columbus is the presenting sponsor. In 1972 the State Council of the Knights donated $1,000 to help with the Basketball Competition expenses.
• During the 2 ½ day tournament, 40 volunteers are utilized every 45 minutes
• 1,124 athletes and 365 coaches from 41 local programs are registered for a total of 114 basketball teams and 17 cheerleading squads
• Largest local program is Wichita Independents from Wichita – 106 athletes and 73 coaches to field 10 basketball teams and 2 cheerleading squads
• Traveling longest distance was New Hope Bulldogs of Pittsburg (340 miles) – 13 athletes and four coaches to field two basketball teams
• Oldest participant was 80-year-old JoAnn Yates with the KCK Kings. She will participate in individual skills and team skills
• Oldest basketball player was Avon Smith, who is 69. He will play on the ARC of Central Plains. This is the second year that Avon has been the oldest basketball player at the tournament.
• Oldest cheerleader is Donna Nansel. She cheers for ARC of Central Plains.
• A minimum of 6,775 meals will be served to athletes, coaches and volunteers. Teams will book approximately 400 rooms for Thursday and 400 rooms for Friday night in Hays.
• Emily Farrant, Most Inspirational Athlete of 2014 Games and from Junction City Pacesetters, lit the torch on Thursday night to declare the games open
• Basketball will be played in four locations – Hays High School, Hays Recreation Center, the old Hays Rec and Fort Hays State University’s Gross Coliseum. Cheerleading will be held in Gross Coliseum
• The First Special Olympics was held in Chicago in 1968 at Solider Field. Six Athletes from Holy Family Center in Wichita participated in the games.
• Organizers of first Special Olympics did not feel athletes could play team sports, citing the inability to understand team rules. But, Kansas loves basketball, and in 1969, Special Olympics of Kansas held the first basketball competition for Special Olympics, proving “organizers” wrong. SOKS was officially incorporated in 1970.
Below are the names of the Storm Special Olympics athletes who competed in the Special Olympics State Basketball and Cheerleading Competition in Hays this past weekend. They were divided up into four teams.
Coach: Rick Julian
Coach: Dale Hogg
Douglas (DJ) Johnson
Marci Maes (Unruh)
Coach: Jim Boenke
Coach: Stephanie Galusha
Marci Maes (Unruh)
Coach: Erika Jo Julian