Special Olympics team shows heart, hustle on way to hoops championship
The Renegades, a West Orange-based adult five-on-five basketball team, won first place in its division at the Special Olympics Florida State Championships in Tavares.
| 8:00 p.m. February 15, 2018
A group of young men from the West Orange area set a goal, worked hard at it and reaped the rewards.
The Renegades Special Olympics basketball team, which consists of seven local men ranging from age 23 to their early 30s, won both their games at the Special Olympics Florida State Basketball Championships Jan. 26 to 27 at The Big House in Tavares.
In doing so, the group of West Orange area competitors were crowned state champions in Adult 5-on-5 Division 4.
The team was coached by Olivia Banks and Lisa Landsberger, and it began practicing once a week at West Orange High School in October.
“I think they had a lot of fun,” Banks said. “They applied what they practiced and saw it was actually working. … They really can’t wait to start the season up again.”
Banks moved to Central Florida from the Miami area recently, but has been involved with Special Olympics for years. It was her first time coaching basketball, although she has played all her life, and she said she was impressed by the dedication of the team.
“I would make them work — I’m not an easy coach, to say the least,” Banks said. “They improved a lot from the first time I saw them. I was really impressed by all of them.”
The Renegades ran a man-to-man defense and worked on setting screens on offense. This helped them achieve success in the area and state competitions after a rough couple of games in the county tournament against a higher level (Division 3) of competition.
In Tavares, the Renegades won their first game by a score of 30-22 and their second 43-29.
Banks said the Renegades’ success was a total-team effort but that Shelby Forester stood out as the team’s most enthusiastic player — cheering and rooting on teammates whether he was in the game or on bench — and that Matthew Letcher was the team’s leader.
Banks said the experience of volunteering with the Renegades was rewarding.
“It was great for me,” Banks said. “I’d never done this before, being a head coach, so I was unsure of how they would respond. To build that trust and that camaraderie with them … they confided in me, and that’s a big deal.
“Regardless of the score, just that we built a relationship — to me was the most important thing,” she said.