HAYS — There may have been disappointment with the run Kansas teams made in the NCAA Tournament, but that wasn’t the case in Hays this past weekend as thousands swarmed to the city for the 2014 Kansas Special Olympics State Basketball and Cheerleading Competition.
“This is March Madness,” Ellis County Commissioner Barbara Wasinger said.
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 Hays Recreation Center. There were 38 Storm special Olympians competing, helped by 11 coaches, seven volunteers and other family members.
According to Special Olympics Kansas President/Chief Executive Officer Chris Hahn, the tournament included 132 teams with nearly 1,300 athletes and 400 coaches. He said this was the largest state basketball-cheerleading tournament ever.
The participants took part in either the cheer competition or the 180-plus basketball games that spanned the three-days. It also took hundreds of volunteers, over 45 volunteers every 45 minutes to make it happen.
The event kicked off with the opening ceremony Thursday night at the coliseum, which featured a performance by the Barton Community College cheer squad and dance line, 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.”
One of the highlights of the ceremony was Storm athlete Marcie Unruh. She was one of the four participants from around the state selected to help carry in the torch into the arena.
As for the contests, the Storm’s cheer squad and all four of the roundball teams all came home with awards.
The cheerleading team, coached by Erika Julian and Amada Fellers, earned bronze medals Thursday afternoon in Division I, made up of the largest teams competing.
Storm basketball teams are divided into squads based on skill levels from level four all the way up to fast break.
The level four team (the Hurricanes), coached by Stephanie Galusha and Kelly Reed, took second in their bracket and brought home the silver with a 2-1 record.
The lower level three team (the Thunder), coached by Dale Hogg and Cindy Warner, took first place and brought home gold medals, posting a 3-0 record.
The upper level three team (the Tornado), coached by Rick Julian, Alex Cape and Boe Levingston, went 3-0 and came in first with the gold.
The level two fast-break team (the Lightning), coached by Harold Thorne and Jim Boehnke, also went 3-0 and 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.
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 and the cheerleading squad.