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Jefferson Blaze sweeps indoor games
The Jefferson Blaze, the local Special Olympics Oregon Unified basketball team, swept its division, winning all of its games and earning gold medals for all team members at the winter games in Springfield.
Special Olympics Oregon's State Winter Games shifted from the slopes of Mount Bachelor to the indoor recreational facilities of Springfield for the 2008 Indoor Games March 8-9.
A unified team is composed of a mix of players with intellectual disabilities and players who don't have such disabilities (partners).
Local team members included David LeClaire Jr., Aaron Bitner, David Fuentes, Brad Courtney, Liza LeClaire, Matthew Simar, Jessica Peles, Mitchell Alley, and partners Roman Suppah, Marcus Zacarias and Adelita Zacarias. The coach was Don Courtney.
"It's an increasingly popular sport in our program, and the games are as exciting as any high school or college playoff game," said Dan Cook, public relations director for Special Olympics Oregon. The local program coordinators are Laura and Willy Fuentes.
Special Olympics athletes trained for two months in preparation for the basketball and powerlifting competitions that made up the second half of the State Winter Games.
The weekend drew an estimated 800 athletes and their coaches to Springfield to compete for medals in the Winter Indoor Games, presented by Les Schwab Tire Centers.
Each athlete qualified to compete at the winter games during regional qualifying competitions. A dinner, awards ceremony and Victory Dance all took place on Saturday night.
Coach Courtney said the team learned it was placed in the top level of competition with four other teams from around the state.
"After a win in the first game against the Benton Rattlers, I was even more concerned over facing the Klamath Rebels team, a team known for being in the top-level of competition in years past," Courtney said.
"But after all was said and done, the Blaze found themselves with a sweep of the Unified tournament, bringing home gold medals," he added.
Special Olympics Oregon is a year-round program offering a variety of Olympic-style sports to athletes with intellectual disabilities.
Thousands of athletes participate from nearly every county in Oregon. Through sport, Special Olympics athletes gain self-confidence, social competency and other enhanced skills, both physical and social.