Team 203 Fire, Special Olympics athletes compete in Pack the Gym

District 203’s Special Olympics basketball team, Team 203 Fire, held their annual Pack the Gym night at Naperville Central’s Field House on Jan. 29. Members of Team Fire, their peer leaders and some Naperville Central basketball team members faced off against each other to foster inclusion and fundraise for the Special Olympics. 

Team Fire is a basketball team of players with disabilities from District 203’s high schools and Connections program. The team is split into three sections based on skill level: Team Ghiotto, Team Moriarty and Team Crawford. 

While in the past, Pack the Gym night was played against other teams, the coaches decided to make it more similar to an intraleague scrimmage this year. 

“We wanted to focus on giving our athletes a chance to mingle and face off against their peers,” said Brandon Moriarty, head coach of Team Fire. “We want to create an environment were both populations can work together to create a fun night,”

That inclusion is something that peer leaders on the team say they enjoy.

Peer leaders are recognized for their contributions during the Jan. 29 Pack the Gym event at Naperville Central. (Sarayu Suresh)

“It’s fun to help out peers who don’t have the same advantages as my other friends,” said senior Madison Dote, a basketball peer helper, “I get to meet a diverse group of people.”

Pack the Gym night wouldn’t be Pack the Gym night without a big turnout. The gym wasn’t at full capacity, but almost every seat on the home side of the gym was filled with family and friends, many of whom brought big posters and signs. 

“I thought the turnout was great, especially after not holding it for the past two years and the uncertainty that came with,” said Moriarty. 

In addition to the fans, Naperville Central’s Rowdies and cheerleaders from Naperville North and Central attended to cheer on Team Fire. 

“It was a pretty big moment for all of us,” said Ana Pohovey, a player on Team Crawford, “Having all of my friends and the Rowdies there was so great.”  

Reflecting back on the season, Ariana Siannas, a player on Team Ghiotto, said that practices were her favorite part of the season after last year’s Zoom practices. 

At the end of the night, Team Ghiotto was presented with a trophy for qualifying to compete in the state event.

Team Ghiotto is presented with a trophy during the Jan. 29 Pack the Gym event at Naperville Central for qualifying to the Special Olympics state competition. (Sarayu Suresh)

Bridget Shannon, one of the players who will compete in state, said that she was both “happy and nervous,” about the upcoming state competition, which will take place March 11-13 at Illinois State University. 

For future Pack the Gym nights, Coach Moriarty looks forward to growing the event. 

“I think it’ll grow bigger and bigger as more people realize the event exists,” Moriarty said. “We’re always looking for ways to grow the event and have a bigger impact on our athletes and community.”