Students from local schools competed Wednesday at the “Space Jam” Special Olympics basketball tournament hosted by Austin College. The tournament involved several different skills competitions for the participants who ranged in age from 5 to 18 years old.

Adaptive Physical Education Consultant Randy Foederer from the Region 10 Education Service Center in Richardson said the competition was for athletes who don’t yet have the skills to play team basketball or don’t have enough athletes at their school to participate in a team game.

“It is a chance to show off the things they’ve been working on,” Foederer said. “It’s a chance to build self esteem and to feel good about themselves, to interact with other kids. They’ve begun to build friendships with kids from other schools that they see all the time. It’s a great opportunity for them to get out and do something socially and physically.”

Participants represented local schools from Anna, Celina, Denison, Grayson County Transition Program, Howe, Melissa, Pottsboro, Prosper, S&S, Van Alstyne, Whitesboro, Wolfe City and Sherman.

Foederer explained the students enjoy the event being hosted at Austin College.

“Our kids love to get out of school and they love to hang out with college kids,” Foederer said. “It’s a great marriage for our kids to be able to come to a college campus and be able to participate and have volunteers there to cheer them on. It’s an awesome partnership that we have.”

Junior Biak Tial, who serves as an AC Service Station board member, said getting to participate in the Special Olympics event is incredibly rewarding.

“It’s so much fun,” Tial said. “The kids have a lot of energy and everyone’s in a good mood. It’s great to see all these kids who have put in so much work to prepare for today and to see them showcase their skills. For us, it’s a great experience because we’re able to become one with the Sherman community.”

The tournament was part of the college’s JanServe volunteer event. Students were given the opportunity to volunteer at the morning Special Olympics tournament or afternoon activities that included reading to Sherman Independent School District elementary students or working at the MasterKey Ministries of Grayson County’s after school program.

Junior Femy Varghese, who also serves as an AC Service Station board member, explained the purpose of the Service Station is to organize large service events for AC students, as well as the Sherman community.

“Sometimes students are afraid to go out on their own and practice service,” Varghese said. “So, we have a couple of events throughout the year. We have a big one in the fall and then this one we have during January called JanServe.”

Varghese added the event serves as an opportunity to connect with the community.

“It’s really exciting to see the community coming together for such an important event like this,” Varghese said.

Sherman Independent School District Superintendent David Hicks gave the address for the opening ceremony, welcoming the 400 Special Olympians and wishing them luck in the competition. The speech was followed by an Austin College student singing the Star-Spangled Banner and a Special Olympics participant led the pledge of allegiance. Both the Austin College Katy ‘Roo mascot and the Sherman Bearcat mascot led the crowd in the dance for the song “YMCA.”