Team Oregon’s Unified Basketball, which is made up of Sutherlin athletes, won a silver medal at the 2014 Special Olympics USA in Lawrenceville, New Jersey this week.
The team — consisting of six athletes, four partners and three coaches — lost their final game to South Carolina, 12-10.
“Our shots were just not falling,” coach Tracie McKnight said. “It was an extremely low scoring game because both defenses were really good.”
The team consists of athletes Devon Coburn, Jared Crum, Robert Gilliam, Alexandra Hoppe, Dony Knight, Mike Owens and partners Heather Brown, Geruen Erandio, Lucas Erickson and Evan Villalobos. McKnight, Matt Parrish and Nicole Zamarrippa are the coaches for the unified team.
“We are a youth team and we were quicker and in better shape than many of the other teams,” coach Parrish said. “Robert Gilliam was amazing at low post all tournament long and at one point he had to guard a guy who was 6-foot-9. Devon Colburn also had a couple of games where he scored and did a little bit of everything and Dony Knight does his typical 3-point shot. He had great form from the outside.”
While the team expected to play other youth teams between the ages of 16 and 21, they ended up playing against adult teams as well.
The only other youth team the Sutherlin players faced came from Vermont.
The team defeated South Carolina, 23-7, in the first game of pool play, before defeating Vermont (26-13) and Michigan (21-15) to get to the final match.
The 2014 Special Olympics USA were the third nationwide competition, following the 2006 games in Iowa and the 2010 games in Nebraska. The international version will be held in Los Angeles in 2015.
Nearly 3,500 athletes competed in 16 Olympic-style team and individual sports, with the support of 1,000 coaches, 8,000 volunteers and lots of family, friends and spectators.
“We had four of the highest quality partners you can ask for,” Parrish said. “Two of them had been with us since they were 14 and graduated from Sutherlin this year. Heather Brown was a valedictorian and Lucas Erickson was known around the Special Olympics campus for his huge afro.”
After a week in New Jersey the entire Team Oregon was well known by their fellow athletes.
“Special Olympics reminds me of little kids that go to a park and within five minutes they have made a friend,” McKnight said.
“The whole team was just making friends. So they now have friends in Maryland, New Jersey, Washington and they were all supporting each other and the other teams were coming to support us. They asked us to make the ‘O’ with our hand and do the Oregon cheer and it was truly a great experience for everyone.”
Besides playing basketball and cheering on Team Oregon teammates and new friends, it was also the first experience on an airplane or at the East Coast for many of the athletes.
While they were on the East Coast they got to enjoy a dinner cruise around the Statue of Liberty and Manhattan harbor and explore a makeshift boardwalk with carnival games and rides on the Special Olympics campus.
Team Oregon sent 19 athletes to New Jersey to compete in the events, nine of the athletes came from Douglas County.
Kenny Gardipee and Bubba Hill competed in aquatics, where Hill had two second place finishes, and finished fifth and sixth in other events.
Gardipee had a second, a fifth and a sixth place finish.
Roseburg’s Hannah Wright was the top finisher in the golf individual skills competition.
“The thing about the athletes in Douglas County is that we all know each other,” Parrish said. “It’s a real close-knit group and we really became a family with the whole Team Oregon group. It was hard to leave.”
• You can reach sports reporter Sanne Godfrey at 541-957-4219 or by email at email@example.com.