By Andrea Sutherland, Fort CarsonFebruary 28, 2013
FORT CARSON, Colo. (Feb. 28, 2013) -- Attempt after attempt, Averee Thomas shot the basketball, missing each time. With only a sigh and a shrug of frustration, she returned to the end of the line and watched as other children made their attempts.
The next time her coach passed her the ball, she dribbled, stopped and threw the ball up, sinking a shot.
Her coach, her mother and even a couple of her teammates cheered.
She smiled, gave a couple of high-fives and returned to the end of the line.
Averee, along with seven other children, participated in Sunday's basketball practice at the Special Events Center, hosted by the Exceptional Family Member Program and made possible by a Department of Defense grant to create a Special Olympics program at Fort Carson.
"It's really important that we get this going," said Georgeann Kulton, area manager for Special Olympics Colorado. "There are all types of families on post that can benefit."
Kulton said DOD officials provided funds to the Special Olympics organization, which in turn offered grants to local affiliates that work with military communities.
"We applied for the grant and received $43,000," said Kulton, adding that money will go toward team uniforms, equipment, facility rentals and awards for athletes.
Adults and children with intellectual disabilities may participate in sports such as swimming, track and field, softball and soccer, Kulton said.
"It's a quality, all-inclusive program," she said.
From the sidelines, Amanda Thomas watched her 12-year-old daughter.
"I can see her becoming a little more outgoing," she said. "I'm hoping this builds her confidence."
Thomas said her daughter has an intellectual disability, but she is still waiting on an official diagnosis from doctors.
"She shies away from her peers at school," Thomas said. "I'm hoping she makes friends here."
With each drill and basket-making attempt, Averee's smile grew.
"Something like this is an amazing opportunity," said Kim Trapman, mother of Sidney Trapman, another participant.
Trapman said her autistic daughter has trouble communicating and following directions, but Special Olympic sports allow her to participate in team sports.
Dale Veneklasen, basketball coach and a command sergeant major with 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, said it's important for special needs children to participate in sports.
His own daughter, 17-year-old Jessica Veneklasen, has Sotos Syndrome, a genetic disorder linked with excessive physical growth and often accompanied by delayed motor, cognitive and social development.
"Her fine motor skills are delayed and participating in sports helps with her coordination," Dale Veneklasen said.
Despite the setbacks, Jessica Veneklasen plays basketball, bowling and softball.
She said she enjoys making baskets, playing with the other children and having her father as the coach.
"We've been working on fundamentals for the last 15 years," Dale Veneklasen said. "It's been a good bonding experience."
Staff Sgt. Adrian Duriano, 127th Military Police Company, 759th Military Police Battalion, said he was excited his 10-year-old son, Darian, mastered dribbling with one hand at Sunday's practice.
"He just started playing basketball," Duriano said. "Last week he was dribbling two-handed so it's great to see him working on those motor skills."
Throughout practice, Darian made several attempts at shooting the basketball, but needed constant coaxing from his father to continue playing.
"I wanted him to interact with other kids," said Duriano, squeezing his son's hand to help him focus. "Special Olympics, it's very important. It allows the child to be more socially interactive. Special needs kids don't get enough exercise. These programs get these kids out and playing."
For Dale Veneklasen, whose 23-year Army career ends next month, the support from the EFMP and ability to spend time with his daughter has been a highlight.
"Spending time builds cohesion with the family team and fortunately we have support from the command team and (Army Community Service) that truly embrace these opportunities for our kids," he said. "We should never take our families for granted ... For those that have children with special needs, they need to be involved and understand there are programs out there ... to make for a healthy lifestyle."