Anyone is welcome to participate in Hoopfest Weekend, and our many divisions are a testament to that. From youth to adult, and wheelchair to elite, there are many different levels in place so that all hoopers can come participate.
Since we first began in 1990, we’ve had a partnership with Special Olympics Washington, which provides year-round sports training and competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. In Washington State, the organization serves 17,500 athletes out of 180,000 eligible individuals in the state, providing a wide-range of sporting opportunities from basketball and bocce ball to powerlifting and soccer.
“Special Olympics is about building an environment of inclusion,” explains Dan Wartelle, the Vice President of Communications for Special Olympics Washington. “An environment where anyone can succeed with a focus on the ‘ability’ not the ‘disability’.” Two Hoopfest divisions, in particular, embody inclusion and our message that hoopers come in all shapes, sizes and abilities.
Special Olympics and Hoopfest want everyone to have, in the words of Wartelle, “the opportunity to compete and be tested like a champion.” That’s why Special Olympics and Unified teams are always granted free registration.
“That is the beauty of Hoopfest. It’s some of the best athletes in the world, participating on the largest stage for 3on3 basketball,” Wartelle says. “When Special Olympics athletes are competing at Hoopfest, they feel a sense of inclusion and the belief that YES, we can compete anywhere and with anyone!”
“Our partnership with Special Olympics speaks volumes to the quarter of a million people who come together for our event,” explains Bailee Neyland, Hoopfest’s Director of Brand Strategy and Business Development. “Their athletes always bring such great energy and genuine appreciation for Hoopfest Weekend, and that positivity is infectious.”
For #Hoopfest2017, Special Olympics Washington brought 62 teams to hoop it up on the streets of downtown Spokane. Check out this video from our Major Sponsor, KXLY 4 News, about the experience of the Special Olympics teams!
“Spokane Hoopfest is one of the highlights of the Special Olympics calendar year. As soon as the New Year arrives the chatter begins. Just with any other team at Hoopfest, Special Olympics Washington teams look forward to the competition all year long and work to master new plays and compete at the highest level,” Wartelle states.
Since our partnership first began nearly three decades ago, Special Olympics teams have registered to participate in our event.
“Sports build character, confidence, strength and a baseline of skills that extend throughout life,” explains Wartelle. “Special Olympics uses sports as a bridge to build athletes up both socially and physically.”
One social collaboration from Special Olympics are the Unified Teams, as mentioned in the above video. “Unified Sports pairs athletes with and without intellectual disabilities on the same playing field. By practicing and competing together the teams build a bond,” Wartelle explains. “A bond that extends beyond the court or field and into life. Unified Sports builds friendships that last a lifetime and fosters an environment of inclusion.”
The Special Olympics and Unified Teams illustrate that winning isn’t everything; they’re out there to have a good time. And word on the street is, their energy and excitement is often contagious!
“The CDA Wolves competed this year in the Unified Special Olympics division. In fact they won the title. But, best of all Jesse and Jim (Special Olympics athletes) compete almost yearly at Hoopfest. However, this year they discovered that their normal Unified Partners were not available,” Wartelle recalls. “So, what did they do? They marched up to the two best hoopers on the Varsity team and asked them to play. Over the course of the weekend, I watched the team grow, create a lasting friendship and play some dang good hoops!”
Having the Special Olympics teams participate in Hoopfest Weekend leaves a lasting impression on volunteers, coaches, staff, partners, athletes and fans.
“Our athletes overcome giant obstacles every day,” Wartelle shares. “And yet every day, they attend practices, work on their craft and strive to be the best in whatever they are competing in.”
It was great to once again have our friends from Special Olympics Washington on the streets of Spokane for Hoopfest Weekend. If you haven’t seen any Special Olympic athletes competing, it’s time! Check out this video on the Special Olympics Washington teams during Hoopfest 2017.
We’ll see our Special Olympics athletes and the rest of our hoopers for #Hoopfest2018 – June 30 and July 1.