A basketball slowly soared into the hoop, and the assembled athletes hollered and clapped before chanting the next player’s name. This was a practice with the Cyclone women’s basketball team and visiting Special Olympics hoopsters.

It was hard not to smile at the pure joy and excitement emanating from the basketball court. The two groups of athletes converged for the first time in Moraine Valley’s gym in Building G on Nov. 30 for a few drills, layups and fun. Cyclone assistant Coach Kathleen Zulevic, a case manager for a local residential facility that helps developmentally disabled adults, figured bringing her two groups together would be a good mashup.

“I thought it would be great to bring both groups together to play some basketball because our residents play Special Olympics basketball, and our players were more than thrilled to meet them and run some drills and play ball with them,” she said. “I have a passion for working with adults with developmental disabilities and a passion for coaching, so it made sense to bring them together. It was all my favorite people in the whole world in one place.”

Cyclone athletes passed the ball to residents, encouraged them when they ran in for a layup or methodically threw the ball up from the free throw line. Some visiting players even got fancy with passes behind their backs or spinning the ball, and everyone had a chance to shoot the ball. “I’m working the paint,” exclaimed one smiling resident as he drove toward the basket. One wheelchair-bound athlete passed the ball to Hennessey Handy (Plainfield Central), who banked it in on his behalf.

“I’ve done this before at my high school, and it’s something I like to do because we’re giving them opportunities and showing them a good time. It’s always fun to see them smile and how they cheered for us when we did layups,” Handy said. “It brought us more together as a team. Everyone should do this because it creates team bonding, and you learn what the Special Olympics team goes through. I just loved it. It was a good time.”

“This was a great experience. I’ve never had a chance to interact with people with disabilities, especially adults, and it was pretty fun. It exposed us to different kinds of teams and showed us what they do in practice and how they get their skills going like us. They came to play, and we mixed well. They have a lot of good skills like we do, and they incorporated them and showed them on the court,” said Destiny Thames (Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences). “Everybody should have this experience, and I’m very grateful to have had it. I’d love for them to come back.”

“This was great for our athletes to do something with the community. I thought it was a great idea, and that’s why I love Kathleen as a coach. She has a passion for people and is always doing good,” said head Coach Delwyn Jones. “It was a good time and a beautiful thing to watch. This is a great group of young women. They all were excited to do this, and that says a lot about their character. They’re good people, positive.”

At the end of the visit, the Cyclones demonstrated their best layup tricks for the guests to vote on before a final group picture.

“My residents were super excited to come to a college to play. I think this is good for the team because it opens them up to a new world, a new population of people they’re not normally interacting with. I think now they might see people with developmental disabilities a little differently and might be more willing to approach them because they’re wonderful people,” Zulevic said. “These girls took them in, showed them drills and realized they’re just people who are slightly different, and it’s okay. Hopefully we’ll do this more in the future.”