From every dribble and every pass, to every blast of the buzzer and every swish of nylon, Saturday had the look and sound of any other day of competition in the OC Sports Center.
Lights shined overhead onto the same kind of contest. The court floor would’ve felt a familiar thrill of competition in each of the sneakers passing over.
It was all the same, from the pre-game jitters to the sportsmanship in each post-game handshake. All the same — until, perhaps, the award ceremonies after.
There, as congratulations were offered, and hard work was recognized, the smiles might’ve been just a little wider.
Gladys Qualls nodded.
“It’s wonderful,” she said, standing on the side gym floor after one of those ceremonies Saturday. “It warms my heart to see.”
More than 100 area athletes competed in Special Olympics Texas’ region-wide basketball competition on Saturday at Odessa College, to mark the culmination of weeks of practice and work for dozens of athletes in the organization’s Permian Basin and Big Bend area.
The tournament saw 111 athletes register to play, from ages ranging from eight years old to over 60, in events including an individual skills competition, a team skills competition, 3-on-3 team basketball and 5-on-5 full-court basketball.
“They’re just like any other athlete,” said Qualls, a volunteer coach with a Midland team that competed in each of the days’ team competitions. “They work hard, and this is the end result of their training, just like the Olympics right now that’s going on. They have the same goals, maybe on the smaller scale here, but their feelings are the same, their excitement is the same.
“And they love winning that medal,” she smiled.
Qualls, whose son competed and who has been involved in area Special Olympics events for more than 20 years, called Saturday’s competition a major success, as did Norm Arias, Special Olympics Texas’ state-wide Director of Field Services.
“It’s been really good,” Arias said, as the event winded down Saturday afternoon.
This event was one of 19 taking place across the state in each of Special Olympics Texas’ 19 areas. The participants in Saturday’s event qualified to participate in the State Games on the campus of Texas-Arlington at the end of May.
Here in the organization’s Permian Basin and Big Bend area, Arias said entry numbers kept steady this year, but volunteer support has only gotten better.
“Community support has grown,” Arias said. “Volunteers over here, it’s just overwhelmingly larger than what we’ve had in the past.
“It shows that the community is starting to get aware of our athletes, their capabilities, and want to be part of it.”
Arias noted that events like Saturday’s provide the opportunity to teach athletes sportsmanship and teamwork, while also building self-esteem and self-confidence.
At the same time, the event brings local families together to meet and pool resources in the area’s community.
“It shows our families, when they have a chance to come out here for big events like this, that they’re not alone,” Arias said. “Other families are in the same situation.
“It’s a good resource. They exchange names and numbers and they’re able to share experiences.”
Special Olympics Texas’ next event scheduled in the area is its track and field Spring Games event, set for April 21. The organization’s area soccer competition event is set for May 12. Those interested in the organization or its upcoming events can visit sotx.org.
Until then, Saturday’s competition was a winner.
“I’m excited,” Qualls said. “All in all, I see the enthusiasm of the athletes, and it always warms my heart to see them being happy.”