The Highlander

Basketball All-Stars shine at Fanfest

McLean Best Buddies takes on biannual Special Olympics basketball game

Colin Edson, Editor-in-Chief

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As each of McLean’s Special Olympic basketball players ran onto the court through the path of cheerleaders after their names were called, the crowd erupted. Students decked out with red were screaming to show their support as they held up their signs that said things like “Never Give Up” or “Go Ben!” and parents snapped pictures to capture the memorable moments. The players’ entrance only marked the beginning of a heartwarming and unforgettable night.

On Saturday night, the Special Olympic basketball game took place in McLean’s lower gym. Otherwise known as Fanfest, the biannual event gives the Buddies from the Best Buddies program to showcase their basketball skills in an always strongly contested game. The games are always played against the White Oak Panthers which is a team made up of students from other schools around the county.

This year, the team was coached by Mark Thompson, Special Education Cat B department chair, Molly Payne of student services and Adapted PE teacher Stephanie Schuimo.

Along with spirit days which included days such as Wacky Wednesday and an America-out, the week before the game was full of support from the school for the “Spread the Word to End the Word” movement. Best Buddies president, Riley Smith put in a lot of her efforts into ensuring the movement was heard at McLean.

“I definitely believe Fanfest was a success, not because our team won, but because of the great turnout and support the Special Olympics team received from the McLean community,” Smith said.

Even before the game started, uplifting spirits filled the air as the two players who faced off for the tip-off hugged each other. The acts of sportsmanship between the two teams did not stop there. One of McLean’s All-Stars, Juan Ramirez, put in a bucket for McLean and for the opposing team.

“The atmosphere at the game was great, the crowd cheers for both teams no matter what. You can feel the excitement in both the crowd and the players,” junior Lindsey Stirling said.

Notable moments from the game include Kathryn Knight making her debut for McLean and Ben Baker scoring a three-point shot right after having his glasses knocked off. It was moments like these that made the night as inspirational as it was.

“The best part of the game is seeing the players’ excitement while playing. I can tell that they really enjoy it,” Stirling said.

It was a dominant first half from McLean as the White Oak Panthers trailed by more than 10 points. As the Panthers looked to come up with a new game plan, the Highlander Dance Team took the court and entertained the crowd with a halftime performance. Adding to the fun throughout was the Pep Band that played famous tunes such as Neil Diamond classic “Sweet Caroline”.

Despite the slow start, the Panthers managed to sneak their way back into the game. They cut the deficit to a mere four points late in the third quarter. The Highlanders were not phased as they finished the game strong and secured the victory with a final score of 30-26.

As the final buzzer sounded, the students in the stands stormed the court to celebrate the Highlander victory. The fans rejoiced with the players on the court; they gave each other high fives and hugged each other and took many pictures with the players. To make the final moments even sweeter, the students made a tunnel for the players to run through.

The night was magical. It was more than just a game. It was a night to bring light to the amazing spirits that many students may not know about, that fill McLean. The crowd that cheered the players on was amazing, but it was inspiring to see the strength, resilience and happiness shown by the players on the court that really made the night remarkable.

“Immediately after the game ended when the crowd stormed the court was the happiest I have seen some of the Special Olympics kids,” Smith said. “Fanfest really made them feel special and I think McLean did a great job of showing them how supported they are,” Smith said.

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