'Everybody is the same when they come together like this’: Special Olympics basketball tournament takes over Cassell Coliseum

BLACKSBURG, Va. – An important basketball game happened at Virginia Tech’s Cassell Coliseum on Sunday, but the Hokies never touched the court.

Rather, Special Olympics Virginia’s Southwest Region basketball tournament attracted 25 teams around the region to Blacksburg.

“Out of all of the places they play, Tech is their favorite place,” said April Alley, who coaches Pulaski County’s Special Olympics basketball team. “They love it.”

Although Virginia Tech’s basketball team gave up the Cassell Coliseum court to the Special Olympics athletes, Hokie basketball players watched from the sidelines and cheerleaders helped the athletes make a glamorous entrance into the arena.

Nancy Morehouse, who directs the Southwest Virginia region of the Special Olympics, says events like this are impactful for everyone involved.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re an athlete or a volunteer. It’s everybody that participates,' Morehouse said. "The idea of the teamwork and being part of a wider community, it really raises people’s confidence and awareness.”

All of the teams are unified, which means they are composed of players both with and without intellectual disabilities.

“It’s just really special,” Alley said. It’s something that gives these kids something to do, and nobody looks at them any different. Everybody is the same when they come together like this."

The tournament kicks off a significant month for Special Olympics Virginia. Its Polar Plunge, which raises money for tournaments like this, takes place on Feb. 22.

“Hundreds of the people here watching the games will also be jumping into the ice cold New River," Morehouse said.

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