Tom Miller: Janesville group caps off 'Special' season
The official March Madness has concluded with North Carolina taking home the men's basketball championship and South Carolina winning the women's title.
While the Carolinas are celebrating, there is a group of athletes from the Janesville area that are awaiting their weekend of March Madness.
The Janesville Jets—the other Jets squad in Janesville—qualified for the Special Olympics State Tournament, which begins Saturday on the UW-Oshkosh campus. The Jets played in a Fort Atkinson tournament, where area teams show their ability level and then go on to tournament play. The Jets then won regionals at Wilmot and came through with a sectional title at Carthage College.
There is not a more excited group around than these truly special athletes.
Eleven of them, along with coaches and chaperones, will board the bus on Saturday morning for the trip to Oshkosh.
Caiden Macomber is the youngest of the group. He is 15, and the team's leading scorer.
“When Caiden is scoring well, he passes the ball off,” said the Jets' head coach Lisa Buchanan. “I'll say, 'Hey, Robyn doesn't have a basket yet.' And he'll make sure Robyn gets the ball to make a basket. It's pretty awesome.”
Allan Hanson is the oldest player. He is 65.
“Allan is in every Special Olympic event you can be in,” Buchanan said.
Allan is among the almost 200 athletes from the Janesville Area that participate in seven different sports—basketball team, basketball skills, bowling, track, bocce, swimming and golf. More than 100 Special Olympic athletes compete in bowling Saturdays. Bowling is the most popular sport offered.
Members of the Jets in age between Caiden and Allan are Travis Bauer, Michael Blanca, Brad Evans, Michael Ewers, Jimmy Kohl, Jimmy Phillpi, Robyn Posorske, LaTasha Swan and Mathew Young.
There are no social walls in this group, which was noticeable during a pizza party for the group at Mac's Pizza on Saturday.
Buchanan, along with assistants Al Hulick and Jennie Krajeck, has spent Saturdays since December conducting practices. Buchanan and Hulick led the smilefest at Mac's as the group consumed pizzas.
There were pats on the back as one walked past another, along with fist bumps.
Blanca came up with arms extended wide.
“It was my birthday yesterday,” he said after a hug. “I'm 25. I'm having a party at Palmer Park tonight!”
Patrick McDaniels is also a member of the Swishers. He was awarded a trophy during a brief ceremony for his play.
“He's a leader on the team,” Buchanan announced to the group.
“And he is the tallest,” a player added.
The Jets are the team going to the state tournament. The excitement was apparent as Buchanan went through the two-day schedule.
They will be joined by 650 other athletes, 250 coaches, and 250 volunteers. Among the volunteers are vision, dental and hearing doctors, who provide valuable services to these players. Players can get free sports goggles, which they use during games.
The bus and other expenses are covered by local donations to the Special Olympics. An annual golf outing in August provides the largest chunk. All of the Special Olympics participants—approximately 200 from the Janesville area—got together last weekend at an annual banquet at the Janesville Armory.
For most of these players, it is one of the few times they will be one their own overnight. There are parents and chaperones in nearby rooms, but players are paired together as roomies in the UW-Oshkosh dormitory.
There are the two games. The first is at 2:30 p.m. Saturday against the Comets.
When Buchanan informed the group that the Purple Demons were also one of the teams in the tournament, there was a collected, “oooohhhh” from the players. The Jets played the Purple Demons a couple of times this season, beating them the last time.
By the way, the Purple Demons are an all-female team, which might have been the reason for the “ohhhhhhs” from the male-dominated Janesville squad.
And then there is the dance Saturday night. All the teams will attend. This year's theme is “March Madness” with all the players dressing up in their favorite basketball team's gear.
Buchanan played at Janesville Parker High and works as a logistics and delivery manager at Bliss Communications. She, along with Hulick and Krajeck, love volunteering for this group.
And the players reciprocate that love.
“They're very good people,” McDaniels said of the coaches. “Especially when they take time from their busy schedules.”
Then he captured the spirit of the entire program.
“Having fun is the main part,” he said.
There no doubt will be plenty of fun to be had in Oshkosh this weekend.
Tom Miller is a sports writer/page designer for The Gazette.