The basketball court at the Freeport Recreation Center hosted more than a game Feb. 21. It became the site of community inspiration and celebration.
The Association for Children with Down Syndrome’s, Thunderbolts, a Special Olympics team, took on the Freeport Chamber of Commerce team and the mayor’s office.
ACDS is a lifetime services agency that serves families of children and adults with disabilities such as Down syndrome, autism spectrum disorders, and intellectual and developmental disabilities. It offers various programs to help individuals develop to their full potential by providing services tailored to their unique characteristics and abilities.
The ACDS Thunderbolts are part of a sports training club that focuses on promoting team participation and commitment in floor hockey and basketball. The program follows the Special Olympics calendar and holds weekly practices on Tuesday evenings in Wantagh for teens and adults aged 15 and older serving over 20 participants.
The Thunderbolts regularly reach out to other local organizations, such as boy scouts, to practice and play with them.
The basketball game brought together people of all abilities, and the friendly atmosphere was a testament to the fact that regardless of differences, people can come together and enjoy the game.
The game was organized by Marianne Endo, the coach of the Thunderbolts, who has been working with the team and practicing with them on a weekly. Endo is involved with the ACDS and is passionate about spreading the word that special needs kids can play and participate in the real world.
“The game was great and as the coach of the team and as a Freeporter myself, I was so elated,” Endo said. “I didn’t know who to root for the Freeport Chamber of Commerce, because I’m involved in that, or my own team with the special needs kids. But the participation was awesome, and the skill level was far improved from when these kids played just with one other.”
Endo’s practice sessions focus on teamwork, dribbling, passing, and shooting skills for the special needs players, particularly those with down syndrome. Endo notes that some of the players find it harder to reach the basket due to their height, but they still participate and enjoy other activities such as floor hockey.
For Endo, the most important part of the game was the way the Thunderbolts were accepted by the community within the recreation center. Parents of the Thunderbolts were delighted that their children could be exposed to a real world game and excel in it.
“My kids are more inclined to smile, and they’re inclined to help each other,” Endo said. “If a person goes down on the floor or gets hurt they check on one another. Instead of slamming the door in front of you, these kids open it up for you.”
The ACDS Thunderbolts took the win over the Chamber of Commerce team and the mayor’s office.
“I really enjoyed getting together with the Thunderbolts and having a very fun game of basketball,” Mayor Robert Kennedy said. “It was a lot of fun, and they’re really good basketball players. We enjoyed it and unfortunately, they beat us, so I’ll be practicing for next year.”
At the end of the event, the Chamber of Commerce presented Endo with an unexpected check for $600 to help with her other community endeavors. Endo works with other ventures in collaboration with ACDS, where she brings children in for art skills, fitness, and STEM projects. As an instructor who frequently exposes children to unique STEM projects, the money will go towards upgrading equipment for the school and projects.
“I’m still shocked about that and very thankful to the chamber for their generosity,” Endo said.