(L-R) Mickey Clifford, Jeff Lagarde, and Brandon Baez, cheer on...

(L-R) Mickey Clifford, Jeff Lagarde, and Brandon Baez, cheer on their fellow teamates on the white PAL basketball team. The white team placed second in the special olympics basketball tournament. (April 2, 2011) Credit: Steve Pfost

Corey Cohen dribbled down the court dodging opponents as he headed for the basket.

Cohen aimed and shot, sending the ball through the net.

A coach yelled out his name. His friends did, too.

Four years ago, Cohen, 23, would not have heard those cheers.

But things have changed for the Valley Stream resident, who plays on the basketball team for the Special Needs Unit of the Nassau County Police Activity League.

Saturday, Cohen and about 100 other special needs players took part in a Special Olympics basketball tournament at New Hyde Park Memorial High School.

For the first time, the Nassau County PAL special needs unit brought not one but two teams to the tournament.

"I think it's fun," Cohen said. "It's exciting."

Cohen spent six years at a special school in Massachusetts and when he returned home to live, he had no friends. The family found the PAL special needs unit and enrolled Cohen in golf. Then came basketball, and baseball and football.

"He's got a lot of friends now," said his father, Mitch Cohen. "Just watching him do this is awesome. He loves to participate and it makes him feel part of something."

Nine teams from across Long Island and one from Queens participated in the tournament in three divisions, said Tim Flynn, director of programs for Special Olympics New York, Long Island region.

The Nassau County PAL team took gold and silver in their division.

"We got a good victory and we're all happy about that," said Peter Calabro, 19, of Westbury, after winning one game. "We're moving up."

Harvey Pollack helped found the unit five years ago when he was looking for places for his son, Brian, to play basketball. He contacted the Police Activity League and found there was nothing nearby his Merrick home for special needs players.

So he started the unit, which is the only dedicated PAL special needs group in the country. The group offers sports, recreation and socialization programs for children and adults with varying disabilities, from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder to Down syndrome.

"It's a great thing because they would not have any other place to play," Pollack said. "They can't play on the street because they don't fit in. This is a place for them to fit in."

Brian Pollack was dedicating his baskets to his girlfriend.

"I feel like I'm learning a whole new experience," he said about the tournament. "It puts you in a different place and you say, 'Wow, I'm just somewhere else right now.'"

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