Basketball gives Oak Lawn boy with Down syndrome a chance to be more than special

The Oak Lawn Special Olympics Basketball Day has to be one of my favorite days of the year. Not only because my youngest son, Nathaniel, gets to play basketball with his friends, but because I have the chance to watch an amazing team of young athletes grow and learn together.

My son, 10, started with the Junior Jordans when he was 8. Not only could Nate barely hold the ball, but dribbling down the court was an impossible feat. Now one of my greatest joys is watching him dribble the ball all the way down the court with a smile on his face that reaches from ear to ear.

I am the proud mom of five kids. I have been to countless games. From basketball to rugby and a decade of volleyball. But on this day, everything you may have thought about winning or losing goes right out the door.

This day is about happiness. It’s full of pure radiance from a child who can barely walk but gets the ball in his hands and guards it with all his might. It’s about the child that was lifted over his head by a coach just to make a basket. It’s about teamwork where an opposite teammate shields a smaller child from getting blocked. It’s about acceptance, awareness, love, excitement and pure, raw pride.

No one looks at the scoreboard. No one cares, especially the players. They are just proud of their effort. On this day, my son is not different or special. On this day, he is a superstar. Nathaniel is an athlete who is happy just to be a part of the team.

On this day, no matter who scores, the crowd goes wild.

My smile takes weeks to come off. Can you imagine how thrilled my son was to autograph programs for all his fans? I often have thought that all athletes should attend one of our games to learn the true meaning of sportsmanship. To see with their own eyes that it doesn’t matter who wins or loses, but how you play the game.

Every year we pack the stands with family and friends wearing colorful T-shirts. I believe Nate’s fan club leaves with way more than they came with.

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