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Teams face off in Special Olympics hoops tourney

John Young, 17, center, with the Commack Sharks,

John Young, 17, center, with the Commack Sharks, dribbles the ball down court during the Special Olympics New York NCPAL Basketball Tournament held at the Hicksville P.A.L. Athletic Center in HIcksville, Saturday, May 30, 2015. Sixteen basketball teams with up to 10 players on each team participated in the games. Credit: Steve Pfost

A basketball sailed from the half court line for a perfect swish Saturday in Hicksville, and both teams erupted in applause.

Bob Pope, 71, of Merrick, a volunteer with the Nassau County Police Athletic League's Special Needs Unit, said the unusual response was typical for this venue, "when one guy makes a great shot, everyone's cheering."

Sixteen teams faced off Saturday at the Special Olympics New York basketball tournament, hosted by the athletic league, at the Hicksville Athletic Center.

Teams were made up of teenagers and adults with a range of disorders, from Down syndrome to autism. Most of the players were local, but teams from Albany and the town of Oakville in Ontario, Canada, trekked south to participate. Teams were grouped and matched by ability.

On another court, players in yellow and orange jerseys raced across the hardwood floor, and a score produced a volley of high-fives among teammates.

Marianne Endo, coach of the ACDS Thunderbolts, a Plainview team in which all the players have Down syndrome, said the game is not only good exercise, "it also gives camaraderie" and the chance to "play a competitive sport when they're not always given the opportunity to play."

The Thunderbolts, in yellow, lost 22-24, but they walked off the court triumphant. "I scored!" said John Toomey, 24, of Amityville, after the game. "It just feels good."

Tim Flynn, director of programs at Special Olympics New York, said people often look at those with disabilities and focus on what they can't do. "But when you see them on the court, we flip a switch and turn it into what they can do," he said.

When Adeline Skiber's husband died in an accident at home last year, she was left alone to take care of her disabled son, Mark, now 34. She said the PAL's special needs unit stepped in to help.

"They just took him under their wing," said Skiber, 58, of Wantagh. Basketball "builds him up, how he feels about himself; he has confidence in himself," she said before grabbing Officer Jethro Cardona, director of the league's special needs unit, to show her appreciation.

"It's people like that we need to help," Cardona said of Mark Skiber.

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