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A special brand of basketball
Special Needs Basketball League- boy shooting.jpg
Evan Cary, 12, is eyeing nothing but net as he prepares to launch a basketball into the hoop during the Special Needs Basketball League’s last practice Tuesday. Teammate Hudson Winfree, 8, is also pictured. - photo by Atlanta Northcutt

February is a month full of a special love of basketball as the McMinnville Special Games holds its first Special Needs Basketball League each Saturday beginning Feb. 8. 

There are 26 male and female players, ranging from 5 to 37, on the team. The league will be taking on members of the community each Saturday at the Warren County High School gym beginning at 10 a.m.

“We would love to fill those stands and show our special guys how much the community supports them,” said Holly McBride, director and co-founder of McMinnville Special Games.

Admittance to the games is free, but donations are welcome and appreciated. Concessions will be open with all proceeds going to the organization. 

“We do have a couple of children in wheelchairs playing,” says McBride. “We have eight typical students from Warren County schools who are basketball buddies. They assist some of the team members with things the players are unable to do on their own.”

“For a parent to see their child who’s in a wheelchair shoot and make a basket with help from their basketball buddy is such an amazing moment,” adds McBride. “Some of these players had never even picked up a basketball, and are now shooting hoops and enjoying themselves. The parents get to sit back in the stands and cheer.”

The Warren County Sparkle Squad will be providing halftime entertainment. The Sparkle Squad is a group of young cheerleaders with special needs from Warren County schools led by Candice Willmore.

McMinnville Special Games was created in 2012 and started with 40 participants and one event per year. The organization currently has at least 125 participants and holds three to four events per month.

“As long as we have the support of the community, we plan to keep on growing,” says McBride. “The amount of members of the special needs community who’ve shown interest in participating in the basketball league is amazing. We are so excited.”

Beginning Saturday, Feb. 8, the Special Needs Basketball League will play against members of McMinnville Fire Department. The team will then play Warren County Sheriff’s Department on Saturday, Feb. 15. 

The following Saturday, linemen from several utility companies in Warren County will shoot hoops with the league. The final game will be held Saturday, Feb. 29 with different CrossFit organizations in McMinnville taking part in the fun. 

“McMinnville Special Games is a great organization,” said Major Jason Walker of the Warren County Sheriff’s Department. “We love getting out and helping them any time we can. We’re looking forward to having a fun time with a great group on Feb. 15. We encourage everyone to come out and cheer them on.”

Basketball coaches include Leanne Pelham Morrison, Curtis Hill, Lloyd Weast and Josh Winfree, who are all parents of children with special needs.

“As a coach, the pleasure is all mine. The reward is the smiles on the faces of the most loving people you can ever be around,” says Winfree. “As the father of a player, it’s so nice to be able to take my son to an activity of his own, and one where explanations aren’t necessary.”