STRAIT AREA: A number of student-athletes are looking back on their recent trip to Toronto as the time of their lives. They met new friends, played high level basketball, and in the case of one team, brought home gold medals.
“There were a variety of divisions, and we ended up winning ours – that was pretty awesome,” said Aaron Neaves, a SAERC teacher who helped lead SAERC’s athletes to gold at the Special Olympics Ontario Invitational Youth Games that ran from May 13-18.
“Seeing the growth and development of all the athletes throughout the tournament is pretty special,” he said. “Gaining confidents and working together, all of that was rewarding, and the medal was the topping of the cake for sure.
“Some of them never played on an organized team before – or even played basketball before – and it was amazing to see the growth of them throughout the year.”
Joining SAERC at the event were teams from Chedabucto Education Centre/Guysborough Academy (CECGA) and Dr. J.H. Gills Regional High School. The youth games were part of the Special Olympics 50th birthday celebrations, and featured 2,500 student-athletes from around the world.
The teams were all playing 3-on-3 basketball.
“Everyone was making key baskets and it was very rewarding for everybody,” Neaves said, noting the trip was the first time flying for many of the kids. “I’ve noticed a difference in a lot of the students: socially, with their peers, and in terms of confidence. I’m very fortunate to have been a part of this experience.”
The Town of Mulgrave hosted members of the SAERC team on Thursday night (June 20) at the Mulgrave school. A heroes’ welcome was given to the players and their families. Mulgrave had a special connection to the team, as local girl Elizabeth Hadley helped the squad to national success.
“This was a very big deal and we’re so proud of everybody,” said Heather Brophy-Brennan, the Recreation and Physical Activity Coordinator for the town.
The team members were given certificates of congratulations from the town, and Hadley was invited to not only cut the cake but also serve a Scotia Days parade marshal.
Rachel Kuramoto, core French teacher with the Guysborough school, reported the same sort of positivity that Neaves outlined. She too took the trip to Toronto, but on Guysborough’s behalf.
“They put them on the same team, they’re on the court together,” she said. “It’s basketball-based right now but it can be any sport.”
Kuramoto participated in the unified sport program when she taught at Richmond Academy last year and helped set it up in Guysborough this year. She referred to unified sport as one of the best example of inclusion.
In an interesting coincidence, SAERC and CECGA ended up ranked in the same division and played each other in Toronto. With that said, it was more about the experience than the score.
“The kids came back and one teacher came up to me later and said ‘one of the students said it was the best week of their life,’ so I think they had a good time,” she said. “There were teams from all over, thousands of athletes, and it was a pretty amazing experience.”