Lowell hosts basketball tournament for Special Olympics triad

By Olivia Moss and Kate Green

Christian Caro Yambao shoots a hoop. Photo by Tobi Kawanami

Teachers and spectators with foam hands and pom-poms gathered on the sidelines of the half court basketball matches. Everyone cheered enthusiastically, excited to support the teams playing in San Francisco Unified School District’s Special Olympics basketball event at Lowell on March 7.

The event’s goal was to create an inclusive athletic environment for students with special needs, and help them get active and develop friendships with peers both with and without disabilities, according to SFUSD’s Physical Education department, the organizers of the event.

Special Day Class teacher Stephen Esquer said that it was great that the event was hosted at Lowell. “It brought attention to our cause and inclusion and the idea that everyone is capable and has their own abilities and their own talent,” Esquer said.

Over 500 participants came, according to Esquer. They ranged from kindergarteners to high school seniors from 22 SFUSD schools.

Competitors, wearing colored jerseys displaying their schools’ names, shot hoops and dribbled the ball from 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m.

“It brought attention to our cause and inclusion and the idea that everyone is capable and has their own abilities and their own talent.”

Between rounds, many of the participants smiled and chatted with each other. Danny Rivas, one of Lowell’s 13 team members competing at the event, said playing basketball was fun and he liked making friends with the other team from Mission High School. Another participant, senior Roy Palmer, shared a similar sentiment. “We love each other like family,” Palmer said.

The event was the second of SFUSD’s Special Olympics annual triad, which consists of soccer in the fall, followed by basketball and track and field in the spring. The track and field event will also be hosted at Lowell on May 16.

Volunteers from San Francisco State University’s Special Education Department, Lincoln High School and Lowell’s Shield and Scroll honor society arrived as early as 8 a.m. to help lead warm-up activities and set up various skill stations. At the stations, kids learned to play basketball through passing drills and exercises slowed down or modified to ensure students in wheelchairs could participate.

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Lowell’s Best Buddies Club, whose mission is to form bonds with Special Ed students, also came out to the courts to play basketball and support the Lowell team, said Best Buddies president and junior Fionna Shue.

Rather than focusing on the winners of each game, the event promoted inclusion by giving out participation awards, ensuring that no one felt left out and allowing all students to enjoy the sport together, according to Nate Bryant, an SFSU volunteer. Students of all backgrounds, including members of Lowell’s Varsity and JV girl’s basketball teams, played side-by-side in each game with students from Lowell’s special education department.

The event promoted inclusion by giving out participation awards.

For many of the attendees, field trips and gatherings, such as the Special Olympics, are uncommon and an important opportunity for the kids to get outside and play, according to Special Ed paraprofessional and Lowell alumni Peter Neubauer, who works with grades K-5 at Alamo Elementary.

Special Ed PE teacher Adam Blume, who has been attending the competition for seven years, says that it is one of his favorite things to do with his class and that he enjoys seeing the growth of his past students. “It’s a wonderful experience for them to get out with peers and challenge themselves,” Blume said.