By Elise Bilodeau and Celeste Amron
The Co-Ed Mighty Titans Special Olympics basketball team will be participating in the Virginia State Competition in Stafford County on March 2-3. The team is currently the Division 2 Regional Champion for the Northern Virginia area.
The Mighty Titans won gold in the state competition in 2015, and returned the year after that. In 2016, the team went back, but only placed third. The Mighty Titans were able to use this as a learning experience. “[Winning bronze] was really just a time for us to come together as a team and reflect and see what our goals were moving forward,” said the head coach and T.C. Special Educator Nola Gaskins.
The players on the team are looking forward to going back to the competition. “I was excited when we found out [that we were regional champions],” said junior Emma Franken.
The Mighty Titans beat the McLean Bulls and Eagles Read in order to advance to the state competition. Thirty-four other teams will also be competing in the state tournament in their respective divisions.
“It’s hard to tell if we’re gonna win. We’re playing against a lot of teams,” said Franken. There are three other teams competing in their division at the competition this year. The four teams will participate in a bracket-style tournament in order to determine the Division 2 State Champion.
The team had a successful record this season. “We won all of our games and competitions except for one,” said Gaskins. The one game that the team lost was against a Division 1 team, and it was by a deficit of nine points. “It was a huge accomplishment because [the team we lost to was] a whole division above us,” said Gaskins.
The team practices every Saturday at Episcopal High School. “The athletes are encouraged to meet throughout the week [outside of school] so that they can get in some authentic play time,” said Gaskins.
The team was established five years ago, and has consisted of exclusively current and former T.C. students up until this year. All of the players, except for one, either attend or are alumni of T.C.
“Socially, we have seen kids who are a little more reserved, and just not very confident develop the confidence and the social skills that they didn’t have,” said Gaskins. Being a part of the Mighty Titans has also contributed to the physical and emotional growth of the players.
The team also gives players a community to be a part of. “[Players have] stayed in touch even after they’ve moved on and they form really tight bonds,” said Assistant Coach Brent Morris.
“It’s hard work,” said team manager Michael Torres. Torres, a current T.C. student, helps keep the team in order, to make sure that all of the players are working to the best of their abilities.