Fanfest games return

Special Olympics basketball game returns with alumni facing former students

Students, faculty and community members showed out to McLean’s Special Olympics Fanfest basketball game on March 25. The game featured former and current special education students, who faced head-to-head in the competition during 8th period. This was McLean’s first Fanfest game since 2019.

“We were so thrilled to have it back this year,” senior and McLean Best Buddies Co-President Ava Birchfield said.

Best Buddies co-president Atticus Gore started the game with a brief expression of gratitude. Then the lights cut, and the spotlight directed attention toward the front of the gym, where each player ran out of the locker room through a tunnel of cheerleaders. Cheers filled the arena, and the atmosphere was electric.

This was the first year that the game featured alumni and current students. It broke from tradition due the pandemic putting a two year pause on the Special Olympic team’s seasons.

“Due to Covid, our team was unable to play any other schools throughout their entire season,” Birchfield said. “Normally, our team would play a different school or group but instead we gathered some of our alumni to create two teams. Both teams represented McLean which let the players just have fun and enjoy the game.”

To many, the game was comforting in that it signaled a return to pre-pandemic normalcy. 

“It’s obviously really good for the kids to finally get a chance to do something like this in front of all their friends and the school, and it’s just something that’s normal and super special at the same time,” said special education teacher Matt Kelly, who helped organize and referee the event. 

The alumni team members quickly began racking up points. Juan Ramirez-Ramirez was a force on offense, dribbling straight to the basket, where he helped his team to an early lead. Jack Kales and Ben Shue kept their team close, with a couple of clutch three-pointers and outside jump shots. Ben Baker was a rebound machine under the basket, where he secured the ball, and then dished it out to ball-handlers Maia Stewart and Abby Criswell. 

“The game was just nonstop action, and it was a great spectator experience,” senior Ben Kelly said. 

The team had been practicing all season, and for those involved in Special Olympics, it was rewarding to see all the players’ hard work throughout the season pay off during the game. 

“We practiced once a week on Thursday, and it was sort of getting them to understand playing together, spacing on offense and defense, and most importantly we made sure they understood to have fun,” Kelly said. 

At halftime, players and coaches danced at halfcourt as the crowd did the YMCA and sang along to “Can’t Stop the Feeling” by Justin Timberlake.

One of the most thrilling events of the game came in the second half, when freshman Caleb DeVore subbed in, caught a pass, and with two defenders on him, sank a shot from well outside the three point line. The crowd and coach Mark Thompson went wild, and all the players on the court celebrated with DeVore after the shot.

“I was so happy. I was excited. I felt like I was in the NBA, you know, stuff like that,” DeVore said after the game. 

With the clock winding down, Maia Williams dribbled the ball down the court, where she quickly passed to Peter Connors, who put up a basket just before the buzzer, ending the game in a tie score of 55-55. 

As students high-fived and congratulated players on the way out, the game was a heartwarming reminder of the community strength at Mclean. 

“It made all of the players so excited and happy, which is the most important part and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way,” Birchfield said. 

By every measure, Fanfest was a complete success, and it served to celebrate the diversity and strengths of all the people in the Mclean community.

“I was so excited to see such high energy and involvement from the students and staff at McLean. The players had a blast and that was totally fueled by the respectful and energetic atmosphere in the stands,” Gore said. “It was impossible to leave the gym without a smile.”