As part of a hands-on service event, Austin College students collaborated with the Special Olympics to host an annual basketball tournament for young athletes Wednesday morning. The Austin College Service Station organizes "JanServe" to give student volunteers the opportunity to develop their own event and interact with local students.

As part of a hands-on service event, Austin College students collaborated with the Special Olympics to host an annual basketball tournament for young athletes Wednesday morning. The Austin College Service Station organizes "JanServe" to give student volunteers the opportunity to develop their own event and interact with local students.


"It means a lot to us because sometimes we don’t get to be hands-on," Ana Rea, an AC student and Service Station board member, said. "It makes a big difference knowing that we can volunteer and have a special connection with community members."


School districts from Grayson, Collin and Fannin counties participated in the basketball tournament. Some of the events required players to shoot baskets while others recorded how fast they could run and dribble the ball. Boys and girls were separated into groups based on age and ability.


Although basketball may seem like the main focus of the day, Lamar Elementary School teacher Amanda Walker said the annual tournament provides special education students a chance to develop their athletic and social skills. The Denison autism structured learning teacher said it’s also an event that her students can look forward to each year.


"We focus on their deficits so we can build them into strengths," Walker said. "We also have to focus on social skills like being able to be out in the community in a large atmosphere with lots of other people. We also focus on being able to behave appropriately and learn to have fun away from school and home."


Sherman High School student Victoria Moss said she has been practicing her basketball dribbling skills for months in physical education class. She enjoys competing in the Special Olympic events because she gets to meet new friends and show off her basketball skills, Moss said.


"I’m having a lot of fun," Moss said. "I love basketball and it’s one of my favorite sports because I played so much when I was little."


Whether players won or lost in the basketball tournament, Walker said students of all ages were able to experience fun and excitement throughout the day. The smiles on their faces make all the practice, costs and preparation worthwhile, she said.


"I think Special Olympics is one of the most important things we can do as a district," Walker said. "It’s time consuming and it costs money but it’s very important because it gives students the opportunity to build confidence, feel good about themselves and go out there to win something. Some of the kids will never get to compete in athletics on a regular education level and what Special Olympics does is that it gives them the opportunity to feel that kind of victory."