Members of Special Olympics Australia (SOA) - South Coast travelled up to Sutherland this past weekend to compete in the Special Olympics NSW State Basketball competition.
Held on Saturday and Sunday, November 18 and 19 at Sutherland Basketball Stadium, more than 160 players with intellectual disability from over 10 NSW regions competed in the event.
To play in the state games, athletes need to participate in at least one regional competition before being eligible.
This year, the South Coast saw five players travel north to attend the games: Oscar Geeves, Josiah Bennet, Liz Godwin, Laurie Masterson and Craig Mitchell.
Throughout 2023, the South Coast have played in three events, travelling to Maitland, Windsor and now Sutherland.
The competitions are always two-days, with athletes playing up to five 40-minute games each event. Medals are presented for first to third, and fourth place receives a ribbon.
The Sutherland competition began with the opening ceremony, which included the Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR), where two selected athletes from each region accompanied NSW Police Officers as they brought the olympic torch for lighting.
The LETR is a a charity event run by Police and is the largest grassroots awareness and fundraising vehicle for Special Olympics.
Athletes of all abilities competed throughout the weekend, with players graded according to ability. There are currently four levels of ability - Grades A to D.
Players for all the regions are mixed and matched into teams, allowing the athletes to all meet others of the similar abilities and skills. Over the years South Coast players, families and volunteers have formed firm friendships with people from across the state at these competitions
Each team is allocated a coach for the two-days, who is a volunteer from any of the clubs participating.
Godwin, Geeves and Bennet were in Grade D, Masterson was in Grade B and Mitchell was in Grade A. Each team played three games, a semi-final and a grand final.
Kathy Godwin was the coach of the Grade D Warriors, which featured (Liz) Godwin and Geeves.
Yvonne Cousins, who is South Coast's swimming coach, worked the bench for each game for the whole two days, showing dedication and support of all athletes.
In his first ever state games, Bennett won a bronze medal in D Grade, while the Warriors (Godwin and Geeves) won silver, after unfortunately losing by one goal in overtime.
In B Grade Masterson's team won bronze and in A Grade Mitchell's team took home a silver medal.
A major feature of every Special Olympics tournament is the sportsmanship shown by each player, coach and volunteer.
Despite the angst, joy, anger and frustration that comes with competition, each person is there to support one another.
In Grade D, there is no 'play the whistle', it's instead 'a mate's down, I'll help!'.
At the final whistle it is all congratulations to every single player, before someone asks "who won?" and its straight back to congratulating once again.
A parent from another region said "I never thought my daughter would be so accepted. I've never seen her so happy".
Craig Mitchell said he liked seeing his basketball mates again.
"The games are tough and we play hard," he said.
A First-time parent at the competition commended the running of the event and said it was amazing how everyone was included, which is what Special Olympics is all about - inclusion and acceptance - being the best you can be, if given the chance.
Special Olympics Australia - South Coast now have a team headed off to State Swimming in Sydney this weekend.
The club currently trains and competes in swimming, basketball and ten pin bowling, with the aim to start tennis and golf in 2024.