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Special Olympics Tourney Encourages Hard Work and Commitment

BLOOMINGTON - It's a tradition 12 years in the making: a basketball tournament designed to bring players closer through competition.
BLOOMINGTON - It's a tradition 12 years in the making: a basketball tournament designed to bring players closer through competition.

The game of basketball is Liam Smith's passion.

"Just having fun, winning," said Smith.

But this game isn't one that he was sure he could play.

Liam has trouble seeing and hearing. But Special Olympics has made sure that he, and other athletes like him with physical and cognitive disabilities, are able to make this court their own.

"It's a lot slower paced. We don't have plays, and so it's kind of just like street ball, basically," said Smith.

This week, the Shirk Center is hosting the Twelfth Annual Ronald Knisley Tournament, for Special Olympic athletes.

The Hawks are one of eight squads from throughout Illinois taking part in this tournament, running at the same time as the State Farm holiday classic.

"No matter what your limitations may be, you try hard, you practice, you're going to come out better," said Julie Smith, tournament director.

These athletes have spent months practicing, and learning the rules, so when that ball is tipped, they're ready to go.

"Our athletes, no matter whether they have an intellectual disability or not, so fro them to come out and compete against other athletes with the same sort of skills is a great opportunity for them," said Michele Evans, director of communications for Special Olympics of Illinois.

With each bucket, they're bonding.

"Play a lot of disability people, and you get to have fun with your friends. You can make a lot of friends with this," said Megan Graf, a three-year Special Olympics basketball veteran.

And with each assist, they're learning more about themselves, and what they can do through hard work and commitment to the game.

"Everyone's a star," said Smith.

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