A Team for Anwar

“Bas-eht-all.”  That’s how Anwar pronounces basketball, and when he says it he’s grinning and giggling.   He’s on the Junction City Special Olympics Team named the “Pace Setters.”  I love that name.   Each athlete performs to the best of their ability, setting their own pace.   He started this year.

The first time we went to practice, Anwar was awed at the Junction City Middle School Gym.  He could do his echolalia(repeating noises like “Ahh,” and “Nyeeh,”) and hear it reverberate.  The pull out floor to ceiling benches just begged to be jumped on(which I couldn’t allow).  As Anwar has learned basketball skills, we have learned how to practice with Anwar.

No sitting on the sidelines when Anwar’s at practice.  Victor and I alternate weekly who takes him; suiting up for a workout when it’s time to go.   The team is organized with athletes rotating stations: dribbling skills, rebounding,  passing, scrimmaging, etc..   We have to be vigilant for Anwar’s safety as he does the programs.

Anwar got hit in the head once.   He had wandered under a basket and even though someone shouted, “Heads up,” he didn’t look to see the ball rebounding off the backboard.   When the team jogs laps, we’re beside him, ensuring he doesn’t suddenly stop and examine the floor(he likes to lie down and press his face to the court, I don’t know if he likes the temperature, or is enjoying the different point of view), he could possibly trip someone or have them fall on him while they are running.  Usually he focuses on the ceiling during stretches, so I help position his limbs.   For passing I put the ball at eye level for him and say, “Anwar, look ” and tap the ball so I can get his focus.  I back away, slowly increasing the distance of the bounce and then chest pass.  Sometimes he has looked everywhere except at me.   I’ll walk up close to him again until I get his focus.  His independence has increased with every practice.

“Basket. Ball in basket Anwar.”  That’s how I first explained shooting baskets, pointing to the net while facing him.   He likes to walk up under the basket and throw it from the bottom of the net up.  Staying on a spot has been challenging; he has gotten huge cheers from everyone when able to focus and shoot.  Other goals included:  hitting the ball in a square on the wall, passing to teammates around the key, and dribbling from point A to point B( he uses two hands to dribble to help with control of the ball, eventually we’ll get to one hand).

Anwar’s team shirt is tye-died bright blue with his name and number in bright yellow colors.  It suits him perfectly as he loves bright colors.  He will ask for basketball throughout the week, getting his shoes and pants.   To an outsider during practice, they might say he’s not engaged, that he’s just staring off into space.  I would have to disagree.  When he has gotten a shot close to the basket, he’s jumped up and down laughing.

To practice skills, after school I had him shoot from different points around our backyard basketball hoop.  For everytime he would shoot the ball from a marked place, he got a small piece of Luna Bar, it helped to keep him engaged.

His first state competition was in Hays, Kansas  March 17-18th, 2016.  He was excited when the team walked across the Fort Hays State University gym floor for the Opening Ceremonies.  Even Taj and Savion got in on the action, waving to families in the crowd.  Anwar competed in team skills: passing; and individual skills: shooting, dribbling, and throwing the ball at a correct spot on the wall.   He was a proud recipient of a medal and ribbon.

I’m thankful that Anwar has the chance to be a part of a group, and that our family has 11227862_1037551472950634_7454967911378679210_n  the opportunity to cheer him on.  Attending to directions, focusing on the content and processing information are skills taken for granted in sporting events.  Following a game plan would be difficult for Anwar, at this time.  With Special Olympics, the sports are broken down into specific skills(if needed) for athletes that need more structure or supports and the degrees of competition varies, whether that’s playing a full game or participating in one event.  It’s great that Anwar has a weekend activity all his own.  Our next sport with the Special Olympics?  Track and Field.