GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) -The pandemic has been difficult on everyone. But it has been harder on Special Olympians. A group from Pitt County has persevered through it and has a huge tournament coming up at the national level. We feature them in this week’s Pepsi Sports Spotlight.
“When COVID came, I’m like we can’t do any of that stuff because social distance, we had to stay in our houses,” says basketball player Danasja Hale.
“How do I get back into basketball again?” says basketball player Nick Pitts.
The pandemic paused activities for all Special Olympians.
“Special Olympics is a big part of a lot of our athletes lives,” says Local Coordinator of Pitt County Special Olympics Brent Harpe, “To have that shut down due to COVID and just we had to take a lot of extra precautions with our population.”
When the protocols changed, they resumed sports.
“One of the first events that they had was flag football,” says Special Olympics volunteer Ali Arafat, “So they got out in the open field, started running around, talking to each other, talking to the volunteers, the coaches.”
It has also allowed a group of basketball players from Pitt County to represent North Carolina at the USA Special Olympic Games, in Florida, this June. They surprised the team with the news.
“We told them on zoom about six months ago that that they qualified for the trip and they were ecstatic,” says Harpe.
“I was like yes! I was screaming,” says Hale, “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 has multiplied as they got back to the gym.
“It’s been awesome, it’s been challenging, they were a little out of shape. We have had about 40 practices so far,” says Harpe.
“Watching them come out every day with energy,” says Arafat, “They really want to play, they love the game of 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 sure I would love to,” says Pitts, And now I’ve become a professional basketball player”
…united in a common goal to face 16 teams in an 8 day tournament.
“We are gonna go on and we are gonna go like Lions,” says Hale.
“You got the energy, you are working hard, you break a sweat,” says Pitts.
Something none of them would have thought possible a year ago.
“Just have fun with it. It’s an opportunity that comes once in a lifetime. So, don’t take it for granted,” says Arafat, “Make the most out of it that they can and just enjoy the trip.”
Team North Carolina and a chance to medal together.
“We are going to win a gold medal,” says Pitts, “and we are going to be proud.”
The community has really helped the team afford this trip. They are still fundraising 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. Nominations can be submitted by email at [email protected].
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