Legendary basketball coach John Wooden takes questions from Special Olympics Southern California athletes in 2006 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California. Wooden died at age 99 in Los Angeles, California, on Friday, June 4, 2010. (Christine Cotter/Los Angeles Times/MCT)

Christine Cotter

Special Olympics basketball comes to LB

February 6, 2016

After attending a Special Olympics basketball game at Robinson Secondary School, junior Jamie Hunstad was inspired to start a club at LB. Beginning this weekend, students who are part of the special education program at LB will be able to participate on the team, and the rest of LB’s students will be able to go out and support the team, as well as help with the team.

“After seeing a similar program at Robinson Secondary be successful, I thought that LB could benefit,” Hunstad said. “The whole experience was motivational. The stands were completely packed, and everyone was really into it.”

Hunstad started the process of finding support for the idea by going to the Special Olympics program, then going to the athletic department and teachers at LB. She received immediate support from the athletic department and verbal commitments from teachers to help.

“I owe the inspiration to this club to Jamie Hunstead,” multiple disabilities teacher Caitlin Smith said. “She came to Nancy Lucas-Heck, the special education team leader, who in turn came to me to start the club. Jamie has been a pivotal student volunteer in the venture to get the club off the ground.”

The first sport for the program is basketball. Games begin this weekend with a double header.

“Due to snow, winter break and other red tape, it’s been tough getting together,” Smith said. “Our first game was cancelled altogether. So our next ‘first games’ will be this Sunday at Holmes Middle School in Alexandria. It’s a double header, with our first game starting at 2 p.m. against Oakton High School, and our second game starting at 4 p.m. against Woodson High School. It would be amazing to see a supportive crowd from Lake Braddock.”

To be an athlete, the student has to be diagnosed with an intellectual or developmental disability, like autism or Down syndrome, Smith said. But other students will be able to get involved in a variety of ways, like by signing up with Volunteer to Cheer, which works through the Virginia Special Olympics program. To help with the team, knowledge of the sport and experience are nice, but not required, Smith said.

“Anything will help,” Hunstad said. “Coming out to cheer would mean the world to these kids. When I went last year to cheer at Robinson, my mindset changed. The whole idea is so motivational. Also, if for nothing else, come out to get volunteer hours by signing up with Volunteer to Cheer.”

To get involved, students should email Smith at cesmith2@fcps.edu.

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