GREENVILLE, NC (WITN) – The pandemic has been difficult for everyone. But it was more difficult for the Special Olympians. A group from Pitt County have persevered and have a huge tournament coming up at the national level. We feature them in this week’s Pepsi Sports Spotlight.
“When COVID came around I felt like we couldn’t do any of this because of social distancing, we had to stay in our homes,” says basketball player Danasja Hale.
“How can I get back to basketball? said basketball player Nick Pitts.
The pandemic has interrupted the activities of all Special Olympians.
“Special Olympics is a big part of life for a lot of our athletes,” says Pitt County Special Olympics Local Coordinator Brent Harpe, “For this to be closed due to COVID and we just had to take a lot of extra precautions with our population.”
When the protocols changed, they returned to the sport.
“One of the first events they organized was flag football,” says Special Olympics volunteer Ali Arafat, “So they got out on the field, started running, talking to each other, talking to the volunteers , to the coaches.”
It also allowed a group of basketball players from Pitt County to represent North Carolina at the United States Special Olympics in Florida next June. They surprised the team with the news.
“We told them on zoom about six months ago that they had qualified for the trip and they were thrilled,” says Harpe.
“I was like yes! I was screaming,” Hale says, “After the zoom I was like thank you for the opportunity to go anywhere. During COVID you can’t go anywhere. I was so happy.”
Happiness multiplied as they returned to the gym.
“It’s been great, it’s been tough, they were a bit out of shape. We’ve had about 40 practices so far,” Harpe says.
“Watching them come out every day with energy,” says Arafat, “They really want to play, they love basketball.”
Players like Denasja Hale…
“Competition because I’m a really competitive person,” says Hale.
…and Nick Pitts…
“Coach asked me if I could join the basketball team and I said I would love to,” Pitts says, and now I’m a professional basketball player.
…united in a common goal to face 16 teams in an 8-day tournament.
“We’re going to keep going and we’re going to go like the Lions,” Hale said.
“You have energy, you work hard, you sweat,” says Pitts.
Something none of them would have thought possible a year ago.
“Just have fun with it. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. So don’t take it for granted,” says Arafat, “Make the most of it and just enjoy the journey.
Team North Carolina and a chance to medal together.
“We’re going to win a gold medal,” Pitts says, “and we’re going to be proud.”
The community really helped the team afford this trip. They still fundraise by selling shirts and hoodies and such. You can contact the Drew Steele Center for more information on how to help.
You can nominate an athlete to be our Sports Spotlight feature. Applications can be submitted by email to [email protected]
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