BLOOMINGTON-NORMAL, Ill. (WMBD) — On Friday, teams from across the state of Illinois faced off for the first day of the Special Olympics Illinois 2023 State Basketball Tournaments.

It’s been a tradition to host the basketball tournaments since 1975 at Illinois State University’s Horton Fieldhouse. The tournaments have grown so much that the nonprofit organization expanded to Illinois Wesleyan’s Shirk Center in 2002.

“It’s great. If nobody’s ever been to a Special Olympic event and they come, they’ll fall in love with it right away. It’s just fun to see them compete. It’s 100% love of the game. It proves that their disability is just something they have it’s not what they are,” said Rob Queenan, Assistant Director of Sports and Competition.

Irving and Jerusha Taylor have two son competing in the year’s tournament. Jair, 18, and Eliakim, 17, are playing for Homewood-Flossmoor High School. Irving said it mean a lot to see the volunteers as well as parents show up for the players.

“They show that they care, that’s one thing. And that they’re actively involved in their children’s wellbeing,” he said.

Athletes can participate in the traditional sports program for the non-profit organization as early as age eight. Children ages two to seven can participate in the Young Athletes Program. Special Olympics Illinois also offers transitional activities for children ages six and seven.

The Taylor family have been participating in the Special Olympics for about 10 years. Since there is not an age limit for participation the Taylors said they do not plan on stopping anytime soon.

“We are really avid parents as far as keeping our children involved. It definitely helps with building communication skills, team building and helping to navigate life outside as adults,” said Jerusha. “So, as long as we can provide the resources and the transportation, they’ll be going all the way.”

Saturday’s tip-off is at 8 am. Games will be held simultaneously at Illinois State University and Illinois Wesleyan University.