The Puyallup Vikings beat the Emerald Ridge Jaguars on Thursday night, but every player who attended felt like a winner during Puyallup High School’s fourth annual Pack the Gym Special Olympics extravaganza.
Close to 500 fans cheered on both teams, and the athletes soaked up the spotlight during Puyallup’s 26-23 victory.
Emerald Ridge football coach Troy Halfaday said he enjoyed the camaraderie and positivity in the gym. He was a spectator along the baseline and watched the Jaguars’ first Special Olympics team.
“It’s great to watch the kids smile, play hard and compete,” Halfaday said. “They’re not competing just for the scoreboard, they are competing for each other. Seeing the teamwork they have on the floor is absolutely incredible. This is what its all about.”
Emerald Ridge football players Jake March, Brett Rankin and Chad Gideon were assistant coaches for the basketball squad.
“It is a tremendous opportunity for them to build relationships,” Halfaday said. “They are enjoying coaching, but I think they learn just as much from the players they coach. I’m glad to see them donate their time with the team.”
Ben Rippi, the Rogers High School Special Olympics basketball coach, was the head referee for last week’s showdown.
“Coaching and refereeing these games are very similar,” Rippi said. “You’ve got to make sure the players are going the right way. You don’t call much, but it’s a lot of fun. Nights like tonight are just awesome. I love being here.”
Brenda Schrader, who has coached Special Olympics for 14 years, said she was thrilled that Emerald Ridge put together a team this season.
“It is just so awesome to finally have a team,” Schrader said.
She pointed to Crystal Harrison as one of the moms who put it together.
“We can’t wait until next week when we host our first ever Pack the Gym night at Emerald Ridge,” Schrader said. “We’re very excited for that.”