BY PATRICIA KELLERWEST MILFORD — The West Milford Special Olympics team (WMSO-formerly known as the Maple Road Mustangs) and other teams from Special Olympics NJ Passaic County Area 2 competed in Basketball Skills on Dec. 6 at Macopin Middle School.
The WMSO team consists of 36 athletes who compete in basketball skills, bowling, and/or track and field, according to coach Kristi Masone. Collectively between the three sports, there are five coaches and about 60 volunteers, most of whom are elementary school students. Most of the athletes are from West Milford, but since not all towns offer Special Olympics, they also have athletes from surrounding towns as well, including Bloomingdale, Sparta, and Pompton Lakes. The athletes range in age from ages eight to 24.
“Since we do try to accommodate everyone, we will let younger athletes come and practice with us if they're ready... but these athletes are not able to move on to sectional and state competitions,” said Masone.
With the guidance of Masone, Assistant Coaches Chris Rockey, Kristen Alonso, Barbara Brand and Nicole Lungaro, and gym teacher Ruth O'Brien, the kids practice from September through December at Maple Road Elementary School for the “Basketball Skills Area Competition” event that is held annually on the first Friday in December. In order to compete, the kids have to be an active participant at weekly practices and an average must be submitted to the area director a month in advance. At the event, the athletes are grouped in divisions based on age and ability.
Masone said this particular event was for all athletes and teams that compete in Passaic County; other counties do their own area meets.
“During the event the athletes compete in speed dribble, spot shot, and target pass,” she said. “This year we competed with Clifton Recreation.”
Masone said all of the volunteers at the event that weren't with their specific team were volunteers from West Milford High School and from Sussex County Tech, as well as a few others who come to all events.
“Our volunteers were amazing and made our night run so smooth," Masone said. "Many people came up to me complementing how these volunteers might have been the best we ever had.”
Gold, silver, and bronze medals were awarded upon the completion of the events. “In my opinion,” said Masone, “all of the athletes and volunteers were winners during the night.”
The Team’s next area competition will be on Feb. 2 for bowling singles, from which athletes can advance in bowling to sectionals and to state competitions. After that, the athletes will compete in a track and field event scheduled for May 3.
“Athletes who qualify will join me and our other coaches at Summer Games where the athletes are housed for the weekend at TCNJ (The College of New Jersey) May 30 through June 2,” she said.
This is a particularly exciting year for their team and for New Jersey, according to Masone, since this year the 2014 National USA Games for Special Olympics will be held in New Jersey. Two of the West Milford Special Olympics Team athletes, Destiny Gerety and CJ Huerta, will be attending the national games, and Masone was also selected to be one of the coaches for Team New Jersey. Nationals will be held from June 14 through 21 in several different locations in New Jersey.
“Our WMSO track athletes will be housed at TCNJ and will be competing at Princeton University," said Masone. "Athletes from all over our nation will be competing.”
Masone was thankful for the community support at the December basketball skills event. The WMSO team was able to raise $350 through their bake sale and a donation bucket they had at the event.
“The stands were packed at the Macopin Middle School. I'm going to have to look into getting the high school next year!” said Masone.
And anyone who wants their child to be a part of the West Milford team should contact Masone by emailing her at email@example.com or by visiting the group's Facebook page, West Milford Special Olympics.”
Editor's note: Anyone wishing to make a donation to the WMSO Team can send a check, made to “West Milford Special Olympics,” to Kristi Masone at Maple Road School- 36 Maple Road West Milford, NJ 07480.