Federal Way’s Special Olympics basketball team had the chance to play with local stars of the Seattle Storm women’s basketball team at a recent StormCares clinic.
In partnership with Bank of America and Kaiser Permanente, StormCares is a program to engage with diverse communities throughout the greater Puget Sound region, said Erin McCaslin, manager of social responsibility for the Seattle Storm.
“Whether it’s related to health and wellness, girls and women empowerment, inclusion and diversity,” she said. “It’s important to work with our corporate partners to show we all want to make a difference in and strengthen the community where we live.”
The clinics make an impact in cities surrounding Seattle by allowing athletes — professional and recreational — a chance to bond over the shared love of basketball, McCaslin said.
“[Federal Way] was somewhere that we wanted to be a part of and connect with the athletes here to bring them out to Storm games,” McCaslin said.
At the July 8 event, more than 30 local Special Olympics athletes hit the courts at the Federal Way Community Center to practice with Seattle Storm guard Blake Dietrick and volunteers from the Storm, Bank of America and Kaiser Permanente.
“It’s a great way to show that we’re all athletes,” Dietrick said. “It doesn’t matter what walk of life you come from, or who you are now, or how old you are. We’re still athletes and basketball brings us all together.”
McCaslin and Dietrick led the clinic, running the athletes through various practice drills and friendly competition games.
Each athlete from Monday’s clinic also received tickets to two upcoming Storm games, including Friday’s Special Olympics Night on July 12.
Plenty of high-fives, words of encouragement, and huge smiles could be found in the gym Monday afternoon. The high spirits were contagious, McCaslin said.
“They love playing basketball, they love each other and they love life,” she said of Federal Way’s team. “It spreads to everyone in the room so you leave with a smile on your face no matter what.”
Special Olympics athletes just may be the Storm’s biggest fans because of what the team does for these athletes, said Tyler Bjork, Special Olympics unified coordinator for the city of Federal Way.
This was the first StormCares clinic in Federal Way and gave the players an opportunity to compete with the best team in Seattle, Bjork said.
It’s two good organizations that love the sport and want to do things for the community.
“We’re competitive. Special Olympics is about having fun, it’s about participating, it’s about being included,” Bjork said, adding that today’s support and inclusivity is a stark difference compared to the lack of resources provided to Special Olympics athletes a mere 50 years ago.
This month marks the one-year anniversary since the Puget Sound area hosted the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games, where more than 4,000 athletes competed in 14 various sports.
Twenty athletes competed in last year’s games, although Federal Way has more than 100 Special Olympics athletes who train every day and compete year round.
“Now we’re on the playing field, we’re dominating the playing field,” Bjork said. “Our athletes are really talented.”
If you are interested in volunteering with Federal Way’s Special Olympics team, contact Tyler Bjork at firstname.lastname@example.org.