Coaches emphasize passion for the game over competition in inclusive basketball league

Nathalie Schickendantz | Staff Writer

A new love for the game.

The Mason Youth Inclusive Basketball program began three years ago and has been growing rapidly ever since. With 48 participants, the basketball league, designed for individuals ranging from seven to 19 years old with special needs, inspires players with varied abilities to appreciate basketball. Rob Auriana’s passion to create was rooted in his involvement in Mason Challenger league and Cincinnati Top Soccer.

The coaching staff consists of volunteers and parents who have created a spirited environment to welcome the children. Patience and flexibility are two things needed to run this unique program. Coach Trey Iverson nervously joined the team but quickly began to love the players. The biggest thing to keep in mind, according to Iverson, is to make sure the kids are engaged.

“We have a tentative plan going into practice and there are some days when we can stick to a plan 80 percent and that’s a good day,” Iverson said. “There are also days, whether it’s the weather, behavior, location where we have to get very creative, think on the fly and just roll with it in order to engage the kids.”

Sophomore Jordan Auriana appreciates the lengths the coaches go to in order for all players to experience joy. Practices involve drills and scrimmages intended to generate a better skillset whilst also allowing the players to communicate and build friendships. The gym is a place to make new friends and goof off while growing a significant bond with the coaches. Auriana said the environment is so friendly that when mistakes are made the team comes together and laughs about it.

“I’m just really happy to be part of this program because a lot of kids can’t play normal sports, they’re either in a wheelchair or have another type of disability, just seeing them together it’s just truly amazing,” Auriana said. “It’s extraordinary how a lot of these kids with disabilities can come together and play.”

Mother Wendy Rosas became a coach after her daughter joined the team. After deciding to volunteer Rosas found a new way to bond with her daughter through a game they can now share. Each child is different Rosas said it is important to be attentive with each player and create a striking moment for them to remember.

“When your child shows a passion for something you want to make that happen just like any other parent would,”Rosas said. “I love to see her dreams come true just like any other parent wants to see for their child regardless of what there capabilities are.”

Coach Erin Iverson treats kids with special needs at Cincinnati Children’s and joined the program after discovering her patient played in the league. In therapy it is one on one and the therapist is aware of the personality of their patient and how to work specifically with them. In a gym it is multiple personalities combining together to play a sport. Iverson said watching the kids run and dribble is heartwarming.

“The first time I came out and I saw one of the kids that was playing, we’ve been working on running for years and I see him and he runs with this beautiful stride and my eyes started getting teary,”Iverson said. “I know how much effort he has put into running and now that he can run for fun and it’s not just in a therapy session or because his mom and dad want him to be able to, he’s doing it because he wants to and he can.”

Challengers league, Top Soccer, and the basketball program welcome families with children who thrive to play a sport. Over time a support group developed where parents switch between encouraging their kid on the sideline and volunteering as a coach embracing children’s success. There is a desire for these kids to have the same experiences as anyone else. Coach Chris Spanier has a son playing in the league and prospers to give his child special moments that many people would take for granted. Dull moments don’t exist at practice Spanier said each drill has special moments.

“We were just doing simple shooting drills and a first time player on her third try made the basket and I yelled that’s awesome and I am just pumped as she is,”Spanier said. “She heads to the back of the line and her whole family in the stands erupts with joy.”

These children have a deeper level of appreciation. Dribbling and shooting may be boring to another child but for these kids it’s a challenge.  Spanier said the greatest part of the challenge is overcoming it and doing the entire process all over again.

“Any time you can give a child or a family that sense of you can do this it’s amazing,”Spanier said. “Seeing them make those significant steps and seeing them thrive, there’s nothing else like it, it’s challenging, rewarding, and amazing.”