The gym at Wulf Rec Center exploded with the sound of applause and cheers Dec. 16 when Garrett Kelty made the winning basket in a hard-fought game between the red and white teams.
Garrett, a Conifer High School senior, is also a member of the Special Olympics Wildcats basketball team through the Evergreen Park and Recreation District. Special Olympics is a worldwide sports organization for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.
While Garrett says basketball isn’t necessarily his favorite sport, he was the lead scorer among players on both teams.
This was no ordinary basketball game. The Special Olympians split into two teams along with members of the eighth-grade competitive national team for the Colorado Premier Basketball Club, which is run by Marshdale resident and retired NBA basketball star Keith Van Horn. Premier runs developmental and competitive basketball teams for girls and boys ages 10 to 18.
It was a close contest. At the end, the score was tied 30-30. After a two-minute overtime, the score was 34-34. The teams played a sudden-death overtime, and Garrett’s shot clinched the win for the white team at 36-34.
For everyone at the game — players on both teams, coaches and parents — the event was a win-win situation.
This was the second time the Premier team played the Special Olympians. It all started, Van Horn said, because the daughter of Maren Schreiber, EPRD’s special-needs populations coordinator, plays on one of Van Horn’s teams. One thing led to another, and the combined-team game was born last year.
“Maren and I had talked about ways we could help the Special Olympics program,” Van Horn said. “Both teams get a lot out of it. The Special Olympics kids really play on a high level, and (the Premier) girls get the opportunity to show them their love of basketball.”
He tells the girls on his team to be supportive and encouraging, and to have fun playing the game.
All basketball rules weren’t followed precisely, which created a memorable moment in the game: 13-year-old Avery Murray, who is 4-foot-7, was trying to make a basket but couldn’t quite launch the ball high enough. Van Horn, who refereed the game and stands 6-foot-10, picked up Avery so she could send the ball through the hoop — all to loud cheers.
Avery’s dad, Tim Murray of Evergreen, said a similar play happened last year.
“I think Avery recorded the only dunk of the game (tonight), with a bit of assistance,” Tim said. “This is one of her favorite things to do. She looked forward to (this game) all day long.”
Garrett’s mom, Becky Kelty, said Garrett has been part of the special populations program since he was 7, and now he’s 19.
“I’m thrilled that he has the opportunity to participate in this program,” said Kelty, who along with her husband, Robert, owns Alpine Pastries in Evergreen. Garrett bowls, skis and runs track in addition to playing basketball.
“If he didn’t have this program,” Becky said, “he wouldn’t be doing a lot.”
Ice-cream cake for all
Annie Hunter, the owner of Baskin-Robbins in Evergreen, donated ice-cream cakes for the players to rejuvenate themselves after the game.
The cakes came to the after-game celebration by a somewhat circuitous route: Jim Sherwood, owner of Evergreen Clothing Co. and E-Town Outlet, won an ice-cream cake party from Hunter as part of last summer’s Dam Ducky Derby. Sherwood donated the party to the special-populations program, so Hunter brought the cakes and stayed to watch the game.
A special performance
The Evergreen High School poms formed a human tunnel for the players to run through at the beginning of the game and performed at halftime.
Coach Monique O’Neill said the girls were happy to support the Special Olympians.
Evergreen High senior Morgan Novick and junior Allison Marti, members of the poms team, said they were happy to help.
“It’s good to give back to the community,” Morgan said.
Allison added: “They are just so joyful. To see them have fun on the court and to be able to support them feels really good.”
Derek Congdon of Littleton, the father of club basketball players Jaden and Sydney Congdon, said his girls wouldn’t miss participating in this game.
“The Premier girls think it was the greatest thing,” Congdon said. “This helps them see the world in a better light.”
Premier player Noelle Van Horn, 13, an eighth-grader at Montessori School of Evergreen, said it was rewarding to see the Special Olympians score.
“It’s so nice to see them being themselves,” she said.
West Jefferson Middle School eighth-grader Kennedy Elrod agreed: “They have so much energy. We encouraged each other. It was nice to see them smile and be happy.”
The EPRD special populations program gave awards to:
• Jesus “Moose” Chavez, a Lakewood SWAT officer, who ran the Denver Rock & Roll Half Marathon while pushing the wheelchair of Luke Olmstead, who has cerebral palsy.
• Evergreen Middle School students Grant Harris, Kaden Salazar, Parker Leek, Nick Walker and Ben Haefeli, who took Chance Hargrave trick-or-treating. Chance is in a wheelchair due to an accident.
• Keith Van Horn, founder of the Colorado Premier Basketball Club, for working with the Special Olympics basketball team.