By Jim Newell
It’s a playoff-like atmosphere when the Lake Orion and Oxford Special Olympics basketball teams meet and Friday’s matchup at the Lake Orion High School Fieldhouse was no exception.
The cheers from students, faculty, parents and supporters rocked the fieldhouse to the rafters in a shoot-out between the Dragons and the Paws team from Oxford, with Lake Orion pulling out a late-game comeback to earn the 21-18 win.
“My team played hard and worked real hard,” said Mark Galan, no. 12 for the Dragons.
Galan had support from his friends, Jay and Nathan, who drove in from Southfield to watch the game. Lake Orion High School senior Amanda Sherman made a sign reading, “Go #12 Mark,” that Galan asked her to autograph so he could take it home with him as a memento of the exciting win.
David Michaels, no. 4 for Lake Orion, said the game was “awesome” and a lot of fun.
“I love the crowd. My team played well. We got that win back,” Michaels said, referring to last year’s tough 22-24 loss. “You fight to get the win, steal, rebound, give it to the tall guy, he puts his hands up, you win.”
Oxford Coach Jeanne DiCicco, an Oxford High School special education teacher who handles the adult transition program, said that while the athletes play to win, what makes the game special is the support from all sides.
“All the athletes play in Special Olympics and a lot of them do Special Olympics together, so they’re all friends. What’s so nice about this is the camaraderie that comes from everyone in the building who knows who our student-athletes are but don’t realize what potential they have. For everyone to support the teams like they do makes the players feel as if they’re part of the community at school. And I just love it, it’s amazing,” DiCicco said.
Oxford jumped out to an early lead 8-0 and continued to outpace the Dragons throughout most of the game. The score was 15-10 at the end of the of the first half and 18-14 at the end of the third quarter.
With five minutes left in the game Lake Orion hit a two-pointer to take a 19-18 lead, the crowd erupting in cheer. The Dragons managed to hold on despite pressure from Oxford. Galan made another basket with 1:49 left in the game to put Lake Orion up 21-18.
Olivia Hindman, a senior Leadership student at LOHS, said the entire school rallies behind both teams during a game that’s more about unity than competition.
“I think it’s really good for the teams because the students all come together and cheer as one. We cheer for both teams. That’s really important because all of the kids get pumped up for it and they feel like they’re a part of everything that’s going on in the schools,” she said.
The basketball game was the culmination of Charity Week at the high school, with students raising funds for NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
The Lake Orion Leadership organizes the Charity Week activities and the basketball game, including the teachers’ halftime soccer game with staff encased in giant plastic bubbles while trying to kick the soccer ball.
“We were able to raise, with events all week, over $9,000 for the charity. Congrats to Leadership for all of their efforts to reach our highest goal yet,” said Lori Hogan, Leadership Development Workshop advisor at the high school.
“It’s a big deal for Lake Orion because I think it shows how much of a community we are,” Hindman said. “That’s really important because with everything going on in the world it shows we all just stay together and that it’s a really good atmosphere to be in. Everyone is included and everyone comes down to support the basketball game and it’s really nice to see.”
With all of the excitement during the week, once game time comes the focus is squarely on the basketball players and their chance to play in front of thousands of cheering spectators.
“The adrenaline flow that any athlete gets, they get it times 10 – but with heart,” DiCicco said. “So, if somebody falls down on the court they’re going to help up their friends, the other players, but they also have the passion for the game.”