August 29, 2003

Sweetwater Hoopsters Shine

Annual basketball tradition combines athleticism and heart

Ten athletes pounding down the court, the deafening roar of the crowd, nothing but net!

With all the makings of an intense high school basketball game, spectators did more than marvel at the athletic prowess of the players—they acknowledged the obstacles that were overcome to get to this point. The 13th Annual Baron Classic was held at Bonita Vista High to celebrate the end of summer school for district Special Abilities Cluster (SAC) students. This summertime tradition, which pitted the “Spurs” against the “Nets,” highlighted these students’ love for the game.

Dressed in their blue and white uniforms, at first glance no one would notice anything different about these players. But once the horn sounded and the first quarter began, an extraordinary experience unfolded. Students who have spent their entire lives coping with Downs Syndrome, Williams Syndrome, autism and a host of other difficulties were able to concentrate on just having fun. The students donning these basketball togs and hitting the court have been honing their skills all summer long.

The Baron Classic is such an important event to these students that family vacations were interrupted and rest and relaxation gave way to sweat and self-confidence.

Words of Wisdom. Coach John Turner pumps up player Steve Schmidt for the rest of the game.

“This is everything to Steve,” said Joe Schmidt, as he watched his son scoring shots from the key and grinning from ear to ear. “He begged us to get back from our family vacation in time to get in some practices and make it to the game.”

Schmidt—who teaches at Sweetwater’s Hilltop High—and his wife praised the dedication of everyone involved.

“This whole thing starts with teachers who are willing to make a commitment. And the enthusiasm and hard work of the students and parents help to make this as successful as it is.”

Sue Davis, a parent who took the morning off of her job with the United States Postal Service, agreed. Never taking her eyes off of the slightly built number 13 on the court, she said, “my son Chris has looked forward to this for a long time. He was up at six a.m. today asking me, ‘Mom, are you ready to go yet?’” 

“This is their Super Bowl,” commented Jim Conlin, who organized the very first Baron Classic. “And as soon as it’s over, they’re talking about next year’s game and how they can’t wait to play again.”

And they won’t have much of a wait. While the 14th Annual Baron Classic is a year away, SAC students have many opportunities to strut their stuff on the basketball court, on the track, on the soccer field and on the baseball diamond. Students can participate in any of these sports—track is a part of the local Special Olympics program—and can even earn a letterman’s jacket by playing in a minimum number of games.

“These kids taught me more than I ever taught them,” said John Turner, a Spurs coach and an Instructional Aide at Sweetwater’s Fifth Avenue Academy. “I learned how to be patient and how to relax and concentrate. That’s worth more than anything.”

As for the 13th Annual Baron Classic, the fourth eight-minute period ended in a tie. While some athletes may take that as a disappointment, these players, their coaches and the spectators were a mass of high fives and hugs—because everyone came out a winner.

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