LAKEWOOD — Jeffco Public Schools' Adapted Athletics program made to quantum leap Thursday hosting the inaugural Colorado High School Adapted Basketball Tournament.
A total of 21 schools — 31 teams — took part in the tournament. Teams from school districts in Aurora, Boulder, Brighton, Denver, Colorado Springs, Frederick, Greeley, Littleton, Longmont and Jeffco gathered at Gold Crown Field House in Lakewood first state-wide basketball tournament of its kind in Colorado for students with special needs.
“We had a great response,” said event organizer Bryan Wickoren, Adapted Physical Education Coordinator for Jeffco Public Schools. “It’s a great representation of schools from the eastern side of the state. It’s a start.”
The event got such a great response that 10 schools were on a waiting list for the tournament. Wickoren, who is a part of the Department of Education adapted team advisory counsel, presented his idea last fall of having a state basketball tournament that Jeffco would host.
Wickoren said there is already talk about adding a state-wide soccer tournament in the fall, along with state-wide track and field meet next spring to serve students with special needs.
“I’m extremely proud,” Wickoren said of the growth of Adapted Athletics. “Eight years ago we had five schools doing a couple of athletic events. Now we are doing something every month in Jeffco. We are just building and growing. We have a solid foundation and base. We’ll keep going.”
Bringing in schools from outside Jeffco has been a goal for Wickoren.
“We want to offer this to more than just Jeffco schools,” said Wickoren, who added he hopes in the future Adapted Athletics will be sanctioned by the Colorado High School Activities Association like it is in Minnesota.
Bonnie Mendenhall, Adapted PE teacher for middle and high schools in Falcon School District 49 in Colorado Springs, jumped at the chance to get her students involved in Thursday’s basketball tournament. Sand Creek brought two teams to compete.
“We’ve always wanted to get involved in unified sport, but we just didn’t have anything going on in the Springs,” Mendenhall said. “Talking to Bryan (Wickoren) he told me all about it. We decided to come up. This is our first time and our two teams we have are really excited.”
Sand Creek also brought up a familiar face to Colorado prep basketball fans. Senior D’Shawn Schwartz, one of the top basketball recruits in the state that has committed to play at the University of Colorado next school year, was on hand as a coach for the Scorpions.
“This is my first time,” Schwartz said about helping with Adapted Athletics. “We had one practice and then came out here. It’s pretty fun. It’s cool.”
A couple of teachers at Sand Creek told Schwartz about the tournament and he decided to be apart of it. Schwartz has helped lead the Scorpions to a 13-1 record this season averaging more than 26 points and nearly 10 rebounds per game.
“It’s different, but it feels good to get away from competition,” Schwartz said about being a coach on the basketball court instead of facing a box-and-one defense. “I can just come out here and be loose.”
Arvada and Standley Lake high schools had members of its basketball teams on hand too as referees and scorers for games. Jeffco will hold its Adapted Athletics Basketball Day for Jeffco schools Friday, Jan. 20.
“We want to keep more kids involved in sports. It’s a win-win for everybody,” Mendenhall said. “They see the other kids in sports and it gives them the opportunity to be in sports. It gives them great self-esteem. They can be a part of a team.”
At the end of the day Thursday, Gateway lifted the first-place trophy.