Special needs athletes soar in young achiever’s basketball program

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HOLDEN, Mo. -- Some school districts in the metro area have their seniors do major individual projects as capstones to end their high school careers.  Often they are supposed to benefit the community or advance a student’s career path.  This week’s FOX 4 Young Achiever accomplished both those goals with a senior project that brought opportunity and recognition to her peers with special needs.

Not every shot goes in, but when they do it is celebration time, time for big smiles and big cheers for the Special Olympics basketball team at Holden High School, and for their coach, FOX 4 Reaching 4 Excellence Young Achiever Sydnie Stewart.  Sydnie created the team last fall as her required Senior Project.

“I decided that I wanted to put them all together and really, really see what my kids were capable of as well as myself,” said Sydnie.  “I was ready to test myself, to be the coach and be in charge.  And give those kids what they really deserve.”

As a classroom mentor in special education classes and a star on the school’s girls basketball team, Sydnie wanted to give Special Ed students in the Holden School District the opportunity to experience being part of an athletic team, too.

“So basically I was able to just teach them my love for the game and share it with them so they could learn the love for the game,” said Sydnie.

Sydnie organized everything including getting donations for things like personalized team T-shirts and pulling in volunteers like Special Ed teacher Emily Ringen, who praised Sydnie’s remarkable maturity.

“She came to me and she pretty much had it all lined out,” said Ringen.

And Sydnie’s heart for working with special needs young people.

“You can tell,” said Ringen.  “Deep within, she just loves it. And she loves doing what she does and just loves the kids.  And they just love her.”

Sydnie spent weeks coaching her athletes, teaching them skills and fundamentals of basketball and teamwork.  And then she arranged for her team to put on a showcase for the whole community at halftime of a boys basketball game to demonstrate everything they learned, and to bask in the spotlight.

“Sometimes they don’t get the recognition they deserve and I wanted to be that person to say, ‘Hey, you can do this,’” said Sydnie.

As if creating the team and coaching it and making it a big success for the athletes and the community weren’t enough, Sydnie didn’t stop with that.  There was plenty of meaningful follow-up.  And Sydnie raised the money for that, too.

“And I was able to buy my high schoolers lettermen jackets,” said Sydnie.  “And they got the patches and the whole shebang.”

Sydnie also got medals for all the team members and put together an end-of-season video and a sports banquet where all her athletes were recognized individually for their success.

“I wanted to give them that strength within themselves, to be powerful, to be confident,” said Sydnie.

Something this very successful student-athlete and leader reinforced in herself, as well.

Sydnie has a true volunteer spirit.  She spends a lot of time interacting with the people at the Holden Senior Citizens’ Center.  And she’s been an active Special Olympics volunteer in other sports besides her basketball team.  Sydnie will start out this fall at North Central Missouri College to study occupational therapy for those with special needs.

FOX 4 News is Working 4 You to spotlight outstanding young people and their positive accomplishments.  In our weekly report called Reaching 4 Excellence we meet young achievers in subjects like academics, the arts, leadership, community service, volunteerism, career exploration, overcoming obstacles and heroism.  Watch for Reaching 4 Excellence every Wednesday on Fox 4 News at 9 p.m. and every Thursday on Fox 4 News at 8 a.m. and noon.

Phil Witt, Fox 4 News