The Downers Grove South community came together in full force Wednesday to celebrate a crowning achievement for the school—a state title for its Special Olympics basketball program.
The 12-member team wrapped up a 21-6 season by winning the championship at the Special Olympics Illinois State Basketball Tournament on March 17 at the Illinois State University campus in Bloomington-Normal.
On Wednesday, the school held an after-school celebration to toast the team and present the players with championship T-shirts.
The team's coach, Kevin Ahrens, said the players' positive attitudes and "team-first approach" led them to the state title.
"It was a magical year where everything just fell into place," Ahrens said, fighting back tears. "I'm extremely proud of what they've accomplished. They worked hard and are deserving of all the praise and credit coming their way."
Ahrens praised Downers Grove South for its commitment to Special Olympics, which he said has given students confidence and opportunities they wouldn't have otherwise.
"This is the type of program and experience these students need and deserve," he said.
Junior Charles Huddleston, 17, has played on the basketball team for two years. He beamed as he talked about his teammates—his best friends—and his love of the game.
"It's a great feeling that I've never experienced before," Huddleston said. "I'm ecstatic that my teammates worked hard and were able to make it happen. It's very special."
Woodridge resident Mary Wisdom said she has seen her 18-year-old son, Daniel, flourish through his participation in Special Olympics.
"These kids usually don't have the opportunity to participate in things like this, so this program has really meant a lot to them and us as parents," Mary Wisdom said. "It's fantastic to see the school support them like this. I hope it continues for many years to come."
For Darien residents Lourdes and Edgardo Rosete, the championship game provided a particularly special moment. Their 18-year-old son, Allen, rarely scored all season, but was able to make the last basket of the final game.
"It made him really happy," Lourdes Rosete said. "It was an electrifying game."
During the ceremony Wednesday, Community High School District 99 Superintendent Mark McDonald applauded Ahrens and his players for their strong season and excellent sportsmanship.
"You've represented your community very well, and we're very proud of you," he said.
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