South-Western City Schools' three Special Olympics basketball teams demonstrated their hoops know-how Feb. 19 in a skills-competition event that served as a wrap-up to their seasons.

Players from Central Crossing, Franklin Heights and Grove City high schools demonstrated sportsmanship and encouragement throughout the evening, which, to borrow a term from another sport, is par for the course.

"Our players want to win their games -- in fact the competition seems to get more spirited every year. But mainly, it's all about having fun," said Mandy Corbett, a special-education teacher who serves as a coach for Central Crossing's team.

"I think the core thing about our program is all the sportsmanship you see," she said. "It's not unusual for players to stop and give the ball to an opponent who hasn't had the chance to score yet in the game. They want everyone to have that feeling of accomplishment of putting a ball through the net.

"It's so heartwarming," Corbett said. "I have people tell me all the time, 'Every time I come to one of your games, I end up crying.'

"You can't help but leave feeling good," she said.

Central Crossing held the skills event, which marked its second year and ended with each athlete receiving a medal.

The Special Olympics cheerleaders from the schools also participated and received medals.

"The skills competition does serve as a kind of wrap-up to the season and a chance to celebrate our students and everything they've accomplished," Corbett said. "It's a chance to bring all three teams together."

The skills-competition events included three-point shots, spot shots, a target-pass drill, a speed dribble and a 10-meter dribble.

About 45 students participate on the basketball teams among the three schools, and 20 students serve as cheerleaders, Corbett said.

The students participate in the cross-categorical special-education units South-Western offers at Central Crossing, Franklin Heights and Grove City, she said.

All three schools have Special Olympics basketball teams, Corbett said, and both Franklin Heights and Grove City coordinate track teams and Franklin Heights students also participate in bowling.

The South-Western basketball teams play nine games during their season, mostly against each other, although the schedule also included games against teams from other districts, including Dublin, Worthington and Marysville, she said.

Central Crossing's team includes some students who have graduated, Corbett said.

"They've moved on from high school, but it's great for them to stay involved in basketball and keep in touch with their friends," she said.

The Special Olympics team at Central Crossing "gets an amazing amount of support from everybody in our school," Corbett said.

One group of students made life-size, vinyl wall graphics for the players, and before one game, the school's varsity boys basketball team formed a tunnel for the players to run through as they made their way onto the court, she said.

"So many people get involved and turn out for our games," Corbett said. "It helps makes our students feel more connected to the school."

Junior John Worden has played on Central Crossing's basketball team since his freshman year.

"My older sister used to play on the team. and I saw how much fun she was having," he said. "I like being with a team and not being alone. It's just fun to play with your friends.

"I love passing the ball," Worden said. "I like the teamwork. Our coaches work with us and help me out to get better as a player."

The best feeling is knowing his family members are in the stands watching him play, Worden said.

Although he plays on Central Crossing's team, Worden is enrolled in the culinary arts program at the South-Western Career Academy.

"I want to be a chef someday," he said. "It's nice to be able to play on the team so I can still see my friends at Central Crossing."

Central Crossing's roster includes Kambree Manns, a freshman who is non-verbal.

Her mother, Christine Manns, said Kambree loves playing sports.

"It's great to have this program so she can pursue her interest in sports," she said. "I'm not sure she'd be able to play sports otherwise.

"She loves being part of the team," Christine Manns said. "When I see the look on her face when she makes a basket, it makes me want to cry."

As the season has progressed, Kambree "just gets more and more excited to be here with her teammates," her mother said. "It's fun to watch her get more comfortable and confident playing the game."

Freshman Carolyn Gardner is among the five Central Crossing cheerleaders.

"I love to cheer and it's nice to cheer with my friends," she said.

The games can get exciting, Gardner said.

"We just try to cheer Central Crossing on," she said.

But whether her school wins or loses, "I just have a lot of fun," Gardner said.

She said she's a little sad the season is ending.

"I'm like practicing the cheers and going to the games," Gardner said. "I'm looking forward to next year."

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