Cayman basketball saw a big boost recently in an unexpected way.
The local Special Olympics committee recently fielded a basketball squad that competed in a tournament in Bahamas the weekend of 5-6 December.
The team, the first ever by Special Olympics Cayman Islands, did well claiming a silver medal in the competition.
National Basketball Coach Victor ‘Voot’ O’Garro lent a helping hand getting the squad together and gave technical advice to the side.
O’Garro also led a basketball certification course in the Bahamas for persons looking to get certified to coach special needs children in basketball.
Fareed Hosein, who has helped out with youth hockey in the past, was head coach of the side. Hosein also took part in the coaching clinic.
The other coaches for the Cayman side were Ken Figurea and Fabio Smith.
Noted local swimmer Andrew Smilley was one of the big performers on the side and showed his athleticism is just as evident out of the water as it is when he is in the water.
The team consisted of the following players: Andrew Smilley, Waide McLaughlin, Solomon Webster, Andrew Hayles, Alec Cox, Beckman Ebanks, Harris Egbert and Jonathan McField.
Smilley, McLaughlin and Webster are no strangers to travelling with SOCI while it was a first-time experience for the others.
National Director for SOCI Penny McDowell said she felt the achievement was a big step for Cayman and the sport of basketball.
‘The boys came home from the Bahamas with a second place medal after competing for the first time ever and it’s the first time we have had an overseas basketball team.
‘As the National Director I am extremely proud that SOCI athletes and coaches put in the effort to not only field a basketball team for a Caribbean competition, but to bring home silver medals as well. It’s a first for us and we want to continue to build the basketball program as the athletes really have taken it to heart.’
Special needs athletes had been in training every Thursday since September. 15-18 athletes, all with varying degrees of disabilities, came out to participate in training sessions held at First Baptist Church.
The team was selected from these athletes and the squad practiced twice a week from mid-October.
As McDowell states basketball was on the mind of the athletes from earlier on in the year.
‘The basketball program started last spring and renewed in September with an eye towards the tournament if we thought they could field a team.’
For O’Garro, who had previous experience in Special Olympics basketball before coming to Cayman, the trip was a good achievement for Cayman.
‘It was a step in the right direction in team sports. Basketball has always been played by the U19 team for the Special Olympics community. I was very happy to hear that community express an interest to play basketball as I can help in that area.
‘I was impressed with their performance as they had never participated in a basketball tournament before.’
For O’Garro the athletes showed talent on the court.
‘The athletes had a sound knowledge of the sport, a knowledge that can be built upon to take them into a new era in team sports.
‘Praise must also be given to Coach Ken and Coach Fareed for brilliant handling of the athletes. As a coach you have to be very careful looking after the players. There were times in the game you could see a lot of emotion from the athletes but they calmed it down very nicely.’