Winners all around in Lyons Township, Park Junior High Special Olympics
Park Junior High's Billy Murdoch (24) jumps the opening tip vs. LT Gold's Kevin Engstrom (40). | Steve Johnston~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 15, 2013 2:12AM
LAGRANGE PARK — The bleachers were packed Tuesday at Park Junior High School, cheerleaders on both ends of the gym lifted school spirit and Superfan and seventh-grader Liam Mahon got the crowd going with his spiked blue Mohawk wig.
Players, coaches and volunteers celebrated the Mighty Patriots Special Olympics basketball team’s 26-15 win over Lyons Township High School’s Gold Team. But even more important was the Patriots’ journey over the past year and since the team’s inception three years ago.
“At the beginning of the year we had players who paired up and would only pass to each other. They now see everybody has to get a turn,” said Coach Rachel Sandrik, a special education teacher and team cosponsor.
Unselfishness was evident on both teams, as players frequently passed to one another, rather than taking the shot. Play stopped below the Patriots’ basket four times as teammates handed the ball to No. 42 Andrew Walker and encouraged him to shoot.
“It’s just 1, 2, 3 and up,” several players said and demonstrated. Though he wasn’t successful, Andrew looked happy about getting the opportunity to take an unhurried shot.
The crowd may have been a little louder in cheering on the home team, but they were just as appreciative of the Gold Team’s efforts. Disappointment was audible when shots from either team failed to roll in.
“This was the biggest crowd of students we’ve had,” Sandrik said.
Park fans also cheered for one of their own, alumnus Kevin Engstrom of Brookfield, a freshman who led the scoring for LT.
“It’s so much fun being back and seeing the coaches and people on the team,” Engstrom said.
Eighth-grader Juan DeLaRosa said he branched out from coaching duties last year to serving as the team’s mascot this season. As Maximus, Juan wore a blue superhero’s costume, complete with padded muscles, patriotic socks and a blue wig.
“I like helping the team out at practice and encouraging them,” Juan said.
Sandrik already is looking ahead to next year with four seventh-graders coming back, and two sixth-grade girls who will join the team.