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Base hosts Special Olympics

Staff Sgt. Josee Fortin of the 45th Medical Group awards medals to members of  the Palm Beach Celtics and Orange County Showstoppers during the Special Olympics state championships held at the Patrick Fitness Center Feb. 7. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class David Dobrydney)

Staff Sgt. Josee Fortin of the 45th Medical Group awards medals to members of the Palm Beach Celtics and Orange County Showstoppers during the Special Olympics state championships held at the Patrick Fitness Center Feb. 7. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class David Dobrydney)

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Patrick Air Force Base had some unique guests last week.

No, it wasn't a four-star general or a congressman. It was 507 athletes taking part in the 2009 Special Olympics Florida State Basketball Tournaments.

Continuing a 25-year tradition, Patrick's Fitness and Youth Centers joined seven other local schools and community centers hosting the games. This was also the first time the base has hosted state state championships.

"It certainly feels like home every time we come to Patrick Air Force Base. It is wonderful they can host us," said Florida Special Olympics Senior Vice President Nancy Sawyer.

The event was arranged by the Space Coast Company Grade Officer's Association. "I'm proud to be a member of an organization that holds these athletes up for the unique, talented individuals they are," said CGOA President Capt. Amber Millerchip.

The opening ceremonies for the games were held at Hangar 750 on the base flightline.
"It's an honor and a privilege to be with athletes like you, who work so hard," said 45th Space Wing Vice Commander Col. Stephen Butler. "Exercise is not only healthy and builds fitness, it also builds character. It takes a lot of self-discipline, control and work. You can learn a lot from athletic competition you can apply later in life."

A total of 54 teams from 16 Florida counties participated in the tournament in a variety of categories to include Traditional Team Competition and Unified Team Competition that consists of teams comprised of equal numbers of Special Olympic Athletes and non-handicapped individuals.

Two other categories include the 3-on-3 Half-Court Competition and a Team Skills Event for lesser skilled athletes who are working to achieve the skills needed to play traditional basketball. In addition, 50 athletes competed Saturday in the Individual Skills Competition.

More than 250 Patrick personnel volunteered at the various games, both on base and in the community.

"The Special Olympics mean a lot to me, to see the clean competition and respect that occurs between the athletes," said four-time volunteer 1st Lt. Jonathan Semple of the 45th Medical Support Squadron, "when I was asked to become Director of Volunteers I couldn't turn down this great opportunity to give back to the community."

Both the athletes and their coaches had a wonderful time and were very impressed with the base.

Karen Hemsley coaches the Orange County Showstoppers and the state championship marked their return to the base after an absence of a few years.

"Everyone's so friendly and helpful, the guys were happy to come back," said Ms. Hemsley, "they're always asking 'are we going to go to Patrick Air Force Base?'"

Palm Beach Celtics player Ryan Hoffman, besides thanking his parents and coach for getting him into basketball, said of his visit to Patrick, "it'll be a great memory for us."