(Update: Adding video, comments from parents, head coach, players)
More than 500 athletes competing in 19 sports at the Special Olympics USA Games
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) — The Bend Senior High Unified basketball team is representing Team Oregon in Florida for the USA Games and is expected to win a gold or silver medal on Friday.
The Lava Bears won the state title earlier this year and were one of the two teams chosen to compete at the national event, held at Disney World.
They’ve won two of their four games and won the semifinals, which launched them into the gold medal match. The team lost to Florida and Washington and won against Connecticut and Minnesota.
The team has been training twice a week to prepare for the big trip.
Unified sports are recognized as part of the OSAA State Tournament, and combine Special Olympic athletes with those who don’t have intellectual disabilities.
“The last week has been insanely impactful,” Cameron Walker’s dad, Mike Walker, told NewsChannel 21 on Thursday. “Just watching all the other athletes, including the partners. I mean, a lot of shout-out goes to the partners on the team (who) are there to really help these people play the game and play it well and be good sportsmen on the court has been really the most enjoyable part for us.”
Cameron Walker’s parents traveled to Florida to support Cameron. They talked about what the Special Olympics truly means to them as parents.
Walker’s mother, Joy Walker, said, “By the time we got here — he’s beyond excited! And to watch him gain so much independence over the last week, and not need me every minute of every day — that’s really, I think, the biggest win, as his mom to be able to witness that,”
The Unified partners and athletes are excited to be there.
“It’s about all the people we’ve gotten to meet here,” Unified partner Olive Nye said. “It’s been super-fun. Everyone’s been really friendly, and we’ve made a lot of friends on different teams — even the teams we’re competing against.”
Unified athlete Nathan Criteser said, “I’m excited about getting to see big cities around Orlando — that would be a good thing, too.”
Team Oregon’s Unified basketball Head Coach Robert Tadjiki said, “Special Olympics Oregon is incredible in how it really promotes inclusion, when you bring people together that has disabilities, that don’t have disabilities play our Unified sports.
“Oregon has different levels of unified teams — adult teams, high school teams, even younger — junior high school and elementary school. When you come together in a unified philosophy and unified team, all these incredible things happen. All these barriers get broken down.”
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