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Warren Township teams head to Special Olympics Championship


Two basketball teams from the Warren Special Recreation Association (WRSA) are heading to the Illinois Special Olympics Championships for basketball for the first time.

The Rockets Gold and Rockets Red teams have qualified for the state championships on their own in previous years, but this will be the first time the teams will compete together.

WRSA staff and Rockets Red coach Amanda Massong said the opportunity to participate in the competition together was “great” for the athletes because they were all friends.

“They are definitely excited and ready to compete and hopefully get the gold medal,” Massong said.

A community sendoff in Gurnee on Friday would kick off the team’s journey to the state championship.

WRSA basketball teams came out on top out of more than 35 teams from Lake, Cook and McHenry counties at the Special Olympics regional tournament held in February. Winning the tournament spurred the teams to compete in the state championship at Illinois State University in Normal.

Massong said the athletes’ goal during the basketball season, which begins in mid-October and ends in mid-February, is always to reach the state championship.

Team Rockets Gold and Rockets Red from the Warren Special Recreation Association celebrate their first-place win and advancement to the state Special Olympics championships. (Credit: Warren Private Recreation Association)

Special Olympics and the WSRA offer year-round sports and activities for children and adults with disabilities. Founded in 1981, WSRA provides recreation services to the Gurnee Park District, Grandwood Park Park District, Lindenhurst Park District, Warren Township and Wildwood Park District.

Rockets Gold volunteer coach John Hannon started coaching 20 years ago when his son Sean joined the WSRA.

Hannon said the Gold team’s season started off rough after the team lost one of its best players and its first four games. However, the team turned the season around at the Special Olympics regional tournament, eventually placing first and earning a berth in the state championship tournament.

“This is their community,” Hannon said. “This gives them an environment where they can compete and be around people like themselves.”

At the regional tournament in February, Massong said that the last match of the Rockets Red team was very close and competitive, with the teams scoring goals.

“When they realized we were up with two minutes left, they started thinking, ‘Yeah, we’re going to win,'” he said of the Red team’s game. “They ran up to us, screaming, cheering, jumping, and said, ‘We’re going to make a state,’ and ‘Number one.'”

Growing up, Massong participated in all of her younger sister’s Special Olympics events. From this experience, she knew she wanted to work with people with disabilities. His sister Lauren plays for the Rockets Red team.

According to Hannon, one of the joys of coaching Special Olympics basketball is watching the players’ skills improve from year to year. Hannon also loves the challenge of making each athlete successful with the skills and abilities they already have.

The Rockets Gold and Red teams are co-ed and consist of a variety of athletes, from teenagers to 40-year-olds. Many of the athletes come back and compete every year; some have been on the teams for more than two decades.

“I always treat my team like normal players and coach them like a normal team,” Hannon said. “I’ve been coaching some of them for 10 years and they’re getting better every year and it’s fun to see that.”

High school sports often have a championship game for which athletes travel to other parts of the state. Massong appreciates that the Special Olympics offers a similar experience.

“It gives them a sense of belonging,” he said. “It’s really important for them to experience and feel that, too.”



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