Club hosts annual Special Olympics hoops tourney


It’s March in Indiana.

That means there’s a lot of attention focused on the game of basketball.

The sectionals are over, and the regional will take place this weekend at Seymour High School’s Lloyd E. Scott Gymnasium.

On Sunday, the NCAA will participate in the tradition of Selection Sunday, and droves of brackets will be completed.

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Another basketball tradition? The Seymour Noon Lions Club Special Olympics Basketball Tournament.

The club organized and conducted the 36th annual tournament Saturday, and 19 teams from southern Indiana poured into Seymour Middle School.

Between players and coaches, about 275 people participated in the 14 five-on-five full-court, three three-on-three and five coed five-on-five full-court games.

Admission was free, and the club organizes and pays for the event through sponsorships and fundraising throughout the year.

“Through Oktoberfest sales and Pig in the Park, we are able to put on this event,” said Doug Ray, the club’s third vice president and event organizer. “There’s no admission, charges or team fees.”

The club, a service group that promotes charity and activity in the community, purchases trophies and ribbons for winners and participants.

The tournament gives participants the opportunity to be a part of a team.

“It just helps these kids get out and do something that they don’t get to do,” Ray said. “It helps build character and lets them interact with other people and see different things and see different people.”

Volunteers from within the club organize and run the tournament, but others in the community also help out along with some members of the Seymour High School freshman boys basketball team.

“It’s hard to tell how many because there are a lot coming and going and from different groups,” Ray said.

The freshmen basketball players helped by running scoreboards, taking statistics and even officiating.

“I told them they were needed to help,” coach Dustin George said. “It speaks volumes for their character.”

George said the group had a late night the day before because they were required to cheer on the Owls varsity team in its sectional game against New Albany, but that didn’t stop them from arriving early to help.

“They were here at 8:30 this morning to spend all day doing something for someone else,” he said.

Brycen Baugh, a member of the team, officiated some games and said simply seeing the players take part in the game was fun.

“It’s a good experience just to see these guys get out here and play,” he said. “They don’t get to play as much as we do, so it’s a really good time.”

His teammate, Brandon Hubbard, agreed.

“It’s fun to see how they talk to each other, and they’re all friends,” he said. “Even if someone gets knocked down, they’re all helping them get back up, even if they’re not on the same team.”

Ray said having the volunteers there to keep stats, officiate, run the scoreboard and serve as announcers completes the experience of a tournament. The tournament also builds the participants up.

“These kids talk about this for three or four weeks leading up to it,” he said. “If we didn’t offer it, there wouldn’t be a morale builder.”

George said that’s why he said yes when the organization reached out to him to ask for volunteers. Service to the community is a priority and something they try to instill in the program, he said.

“Anything you can do to get them involved in a servant’s mentality is something that we try to push,” he said.

The fact that members of the team were so willing to help their community is a testament to the kind of well-rounded athletes Seymour has, he added.

“This is a game they love so much, and I think it can be easy to take for granted, and I think there’s a lesson in there for them,” George said.

Giving back is something Hubbard said he is interested in, which is why he jumped at the opportunity.

“I like doing it,” he said. “I genuinely want to help.”

When asked why, Hubbard pointed to helping those who do not get to experience games as frequently as he and his teammates.

“It’s just to help other people that don’t have the advantages that we do,” he said during a break from helping participants with drills. “It’s probably their only time to really play basketball, and I like to give back.”

Baugh said it was fun to see them participate in the sport he and his teammates spend so much time playing, whether during practice, a game or for fun.

“Our team practices every day and have games all throughout the season, but players here today may not get to play basketball as often, and it’s really fun to see them have a good time while playing,” he said.

But the best part is seeing a player hit a shot and their reaction when they’ve been struggling to make one.

“It’s really good because they get so excited, and it’s really fun to see that,” Baugh said. “Everybody loves to play basketball, and when they shoot it and make it, everyone is happy for them. Everyone is cheering them on.”

That’s why the club hosts the event and what makes the game of basketball important, Ray said.

“They turn around and you see this big smile on their face or they put their hand in the air and get the crowd working,” he said. “It makes them feel good, and that’s what this is all about.”

The tournament normally is conducted on a Saturday in early January each year, but it was moved to February because of inclement weather.

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