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A good time and a good game: the New York Special Olympics

Ithaca resident Jeff Krizek, 44, aims at the hoop during the NY Special Olympics Basketball Super Regionals on April 5 at TC3.
Ithaca –  April 7, 2014 – Jeff Krizek and his team, the Red Raiders, had one goal entering the Special Olympics Super Regional Basketball Tournament at Tompkins Cortland Community College — to have fun.

“Me and my friends always have fun in basketball.” Krizek said. “They are the best team I could have.”

Krizek, 44, was diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome during his childhood. He currently lives on the West Hill in Ithaca, N.Y. Basketball, soccer and cars are his hobbies. His friends are his passion.

The New York Special Olympics seeks to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. The Red Raiders were among 13 teams to compete against each other Saturday at the tournament. More than 250 volunteers and athletes attended the event. New York is the largest chapter of Special Olympics in North America, said Steve Fuller, vice president of programs for NYSO.

Dave Budd coaches the Red Raiders, but before before coaching the Red Raiders, Budd ran a basketball league for over 40 years. His main message to his players has remained constant.

“Have fun,” Budd said. “Everybody wants a big W, but let’s have fun.”

Red Raiders finished in last place at the Super Regional, but Budd said he was happy with what he saw from his team.

“They are great,.” Budd said. “We made some mistakes, but they never gave up.”

Krizek didn’t score any points for the Red Raiders, but his cheer and drive to succeed did not waver.

“I have fun being there,” Krizek smiled.

Janet Krizek, Jeff’s mother and area coordinator for the NYSO, said Jeff inspired her to work to start a local Southern Tier chapter of the games. This year’s games have more lower functioning athletes than ever before, she said.

“Quite often coaches won’t bring their lower functioning athletes because they think there won’t be anyone for them to play with,” she said. “But we try to encourage coaches to bring their lower teams.”

NYSO events are funded by sponsors. The organization employs about 14 full-time staff members. However, it is largely volunteers like Janet and her husband Dick that run the event.

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 Some 35,000 volunteers worked at the event, and Fuller said he commends their effort.

 “I think a lot of times, you have more joy than do our athletes because you are helping somebody to achieve a dream or to achieve something that they didn’t see possible before,.” Fuller said “[That] is what keeps all of our volunteers coming back.”

Nicole Brieva, is a volunteer at the Special Olympics and a junior at SUNY Oneonta. Brieva first started raising money for the Special Olympics last year. The fundraising was such a success that she decided do it again this year.

“It was hectic,” Brieva said. “I don’t get anything out of it, but it’s fun for me. I like bringing people together and making people smile.”

 Brieva’s feelings toward helping others are similar to Jeff’s feelings about playing in front of big crowds. They do it for the rush.

 “It’s awesome,” Krizek said. “People screaming, ‘shoot!’ A couple days ago I had a nice layup and it’s the best”

 Janet said her favorite part of the games was the sense of sportsmanship.

 “Where else do you see athletes high fiving players on the other team?” she said. “You don’t see it, but you see it in Special Olympics. It makes me want to cry sometimes because it’s so beautiful.”

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