KREMC Grant Supports Special Olympics

Illuminated by yellow fluorescents, squeaky court beneath their sneakers, three Kosciusko County Special Olympics basketball players feel right at home in the Baker Youth Club practice gym.

Michael is among the newest members of the basketball team, although he is no stranger to the game itself. Even though they lost their 2022-23 season, Michael is still reminiscing about his perfect buzzer-beater. “Right after I shot, the buzzer went off,” he said. “I made a three-pointer!”

For 50 years, Kosciusko County Special Olympics has afforded players memories like this one. Maxine Burcham was instrumental in founding the local chapter of Special Olympics’ global organization. Her foresight has enabled hundreds of local individuals to learn teamwork and hone athletic skills in a variety of sports, including basketball. “We provide year-round sports training and athletic competitions for people who have intellectual disabilities,” said Becky Walls, who has served as county coordinator for 25 years. “These opportunities are invaluable for our athletes.”

Kosciusko County Special Olympics has two basketball teams: the traditional team and the SKILLS team. Aided by a KREMC Operation Round Up grant from the Community Foundation, the teams were able to cover transportation and gym rental costs for the 2022-23 season. Robert, a 30-year Special Olympics athlete, is on the SKILLS basketball team. They stick to the fundamentals: dribbling, passing, and shooting. “I’ve learned how to play basketball the way it’s meant to be played,” Robert said. He has also learned how to communicate with other players and
support his teammates.

Memorable experiences extend off the court, too. Special Olympics athlete, Sabrina, was asked to coach the 2022-23 season. She prefers playing but is glad to have
the experience. “I got to see everyone’s abilities and how well they play,” she said. Sabrina also learned something important about herself: “I’m capable of doing things that I didn’t know I could do.”

For all three players, Special Olympics is about more than staying busy. “It keeps us out of trouble,” Michael said, with a smile. “But it also helps fill our time with something meaningful. The community is the best part. It’s like a family,” he said.

For Becky Walls, Kosciusko County Special Olympics has always come back to family. Her mother, Maxine, founded Special Olympics with two of her own special-needs children in mind. 50 years later, Kosciusko County Special Olympics continues to offer transformative experiences to its athletes.