HAYS — The 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 36th annual Kansas Special Olympics State Basketball and Cheerleading tournament.
The Storm, which is made up of athletes from Barton County and the surrounding area, participated in events Thursday through Saturday at Fort Hays State University’s Gross Memorial Coliseum, Hays High School, and the old and new Hays recreation centers. There were 38 Storm special Olympians competing, helped by 11 coaches, seven volunteers and other family members.
According to Kansas Special Olympic Senior Vice President of Sports Tim Rehder, the tournament included 19 cheer squads, 126 basketball teams, more than 1,200 athletes and 380 coaches, and hundreds of parents and other spectators. They participated in either the cheer competition or the 180-plus basketball games that spanned the three-days. Over 400 volunteers also helped.
The event kicked off with the opening ceremony Thursday night at the coliseum, which featured a performance by the Barton Community College cheer squad, the lighting of the torch and the reading/recitation of the Special Olympics oath: “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” Also, during the opening ceremony, the Barton Community College Cheerleaders and Dance Line performed.
As for the contests, two cheer squads and four of the roundball teams were a part of the Storm, and all came home with awards.
The two cheerleading teams, divided up based on skill level, competed Thursday. The Storm Gold, coached by Sarah Hales, earned silver medals, The Storm Royal, coached by Erika Julian and Amada Fellers earned gold.
Storm members 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, Kelly and Stan Reed and Dot Slack, took first in their bracket and brought home the gold.
The lower level three team (the Thunder), coached by Dale Hogg and Stephanie Baltazor, took second place and brought home silver medals.
The upper level three team (the Tornado), coached by Rick Julian and Boe Levingston, came in first.
The level two fast-break team (the Lightening), coached by Harold Thorne, Ginger Maes and Jim Boehnke, also took first and claimed gold medals.
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.