Special Olympics team goes to state, takes home 3rd


Photo submitted by Eric Billitier

Proud to play: The MHS Special Olympics team at the State Championships at Illinois State University. Said Special Olympics Eric Billittier: “It was incredible. I can’t even describe the feeling.We had a huge section of fans, of parents, and other fans so there was tons of noise when we won. Regionals was also a challenge. We won the first game, by only 1 point, in the very last seconds of the game, so that was incredibly exciting, and I think we were just so excited that we were continuing our season and doing things for the first time that had never happened in Mundelein history.”

Kayla Baltazar, News-Features/Opinion Editor

  This year, MHS’ Special Olympics team made MHS history as the first special olympics team to win Regionals and advance to state. At state, the team worked hard to eventually be 3rd place in the state. 

  “They did a great job. You could see all the hard work and practice paid off,” said Eric Billittier, Special Olympics coach, Teacher and Case Manager at the Transition Center. “Our first game at State was a really tough game, but they never gave up and never stopped and they worked hard to the very end– both games– it definitely paid off. I could see they were ready to go.”

  The State Championship took place at Illinois State University (ISU), and many different teams all over Illinois competed. That was one of the biggest challenges the Special Olympics team had to face. Going into Regionals, they knew all the teams they would be playing against and had beaten a lot of the regional teams. At state, they were facing all new opponents. 

  “The biggest challenge we had to overcome this season was just experiencing these things for the first time,” Billittier said. “It was the first time that we were Regional champions, it was our first time preparing for state, so just planning the tournament was kind of stressful and challenging. But as far as the team goes, I think the biggest challenge was not knowing the other teams we were going to face in the state tournament. At our Regional tournament, we were playing teams that we had already faced before, and teams that we had beaten. But at the state tournament, we had teams from all over the state that we had never played before, so, [we were] not really sure what to expect from those teams.”

  State was met with a lot of challenges. The team had to play multiple games in a weekend, so a lot of focus during practice was improving the team’s stamina to make sure they were ready for the tiring weekend.

  “I wanted to make sure that we were physically ready to play multiple games over the weekend at the state tournament,” Billittier noted. “So we did a lot more running than they were used to.”

  All the hard work at practice paid off. After playing two games, the team was able to win 3rd place. First Year D120 Transition Center Participant, Natalie Gorgius, recalls the weekend playing at the championship.

  “I’m proud that we won our second game, even though of course we lost our first game,” said Gorgius. “There’s a lot of things I’m proud of, like I’m proud of my team for playing good games. I was proud to play in front of my parents and all you guys!”

  At the state tournament, Gorgius won an award from the referees. Billittier explained that each game, the referees picked an athlete to win a spirit award, and that Gorgius won it in the second game. Gorgius noted that she was proud of “winning a medal and improving [her] rebounds.”

  Another Transition Center Participant, Alex Brown, noted how playing at state was exciting and something different, and how he felt really happy to be playing down at ISU.

  “Playing at state was exciting and something different. I felt so happy actually,” said Brown. “State was good because we were able to play two games. We became 3rd place in the state! We were the first team that was playing for state from Mundelein!”

  One of the most exciting things about going to state for the team, however, was the amount of support the team received from all areas of the community.

  “I think that [the state walk] was my highlight of the season,” said Billittier. “Just seeing the entire school community come out and support our Special Olympics athletes, and all the awareness being brought to our Special Olympics athletes, just seeing them be recognized as student athletes at Mundelein.”

  Not only did fans show up for the state walk, but many traveled all the way down to ISU to show their support for the team.

  “We had the entire Transition Center take a field trip down there, and we had a huge turnout of parents and fans there so we had the biggest cheering section of state,” Billittier said. “It just brought so much joy to the team to see all their parents, all their friends, cheering for them.”

  Overall, the Special Olympics team had a very successful and exciting weekend competing and playing at the state tournament. All their hard work throughout the season paid off, and they’re proud of how they did.

  “I’m so proud of how they’ve worked this year,” said Billittier. “They overcame a lot of tough games in the regular season, they overcame some challenges in that first game, and they just never gave up and I’m so proud of them for working as hard as they did.”