DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR
MARBLE FALLS — Gavin Smith holds the basketball under his arm. He’s looking at one of his players, Taylor Johnson, at the top of the key. Between them stands Jonathan Estrada, who is several inches taller than Taylor. But Smith isn’t concerned about Taylor beating him to the net, not just yet.
He wants her to learn a play that will get her to the basket.
“OK, I want you to throw over here to Karena (Rios), then turn and fake this way,” he says to Taylor. But as her defender commits to the direction, Smith explains Taylor needs to reverse directions and cut toward the basket. He guides her, step by step, around Jonathan and a few steps toward Karena with his hands up. Taylor mirrors him.
The two move down the court at a walk as Karena passes the ball to Taylor.
Taylor grabs the pass and picks up her pace, dribbles the ball a few steps before setting up a shot below the basket. The ball goes up but bounces off the board and to the floor.
“All right,” Smith says. “Let’s do it again. We only have a few practices.”
Taylor and the other athletes practicing at Marble Falls Middle School on Feb. 13 are getting ready for the Area 13 Central Texas Special Olympics Competition on Feb. 27-28 at Texas State University in San Marcos. While it’s still two weeks away, the Special Olympics student-athletes only get a couple of practices before the tournament.
Basketball season gets squeezed in between bowling and track and field. Still, it’s something the students look forward to and enjoy.
But it’s also a great experience for the student-athletes.
“There’s really not a lot of team activities for these kids,” said Smith, the Marble Falls Independent School District Special Olympics head of delegation and coach. “It’s something bigger than themselves. It’s about belonging to a team.”
On the court, the students go over basic basketball drills. While the group Smith is working with practice team situations, other student-athletes work on individual skills. During the Special Olympics basketball competition, there is a team event as well as individual skills competitions such shooting baskets, dribbling and passing. This allows all Special Olympics student-athletes to participate.
The Special Olympics gives the competitors many things, including a chance to get physically active. Smith pointed out it also helps the youth build self-confidence, something he’s witnessed as many of the students have grown and matured over the past years since being involved.
“They also represent something,” Smith said about the Special Olympics student-athletes. “We tell them when we go to competitions and go to a restaurant or are out that they’re not there just as themselves, they’re representing Marble Falls school district. They’re representing the Marble Falls community. It means a lot to them.”
Back under the basket, Taylor executes the pass, fakes and drives to the basket just as Smith showed her. Karena makes a nice pass to Taylor, who turns, takes a couple dribbles and then shoots. The ball, however, hits the rim and bounces off before falling to the floor. Still, Taylor smiles. As she heads back to the top of the key, her teammates offer high-fives and big grins.
“Good try,” teammate Jacob Phillips says from the side of the court. “Good try.”
Contact Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on the Marble Falls ISD Special Olympics program. Go to www.sotx.org for more on the Special Olympics Texas.