Special Olympians look forward to ‘Special Ten Minutes’

Matthew Hartley (foreground) and John McCormack (background) lead a line of Huntington County Special Olympics basketball players through a crowd of supportive Huntington North High School students at the beginning of “A Special Ten Minutes” on Saturday, Jan. 6, in North Arena. The event, now in its fifth year, is an exhibition basketball game featuring local Special Olympics players. The game was played at halftime of a Huntington North High School boys’ varsity basketball contest.
Matthew Hartley (foreground) and John McCormack (background) lead a line of Huntington County Special Olympics basketball players through a crowd of supportive Huntington North High School students at the beginning of “A Special Ten Minutes” on Saturday, Jan. 6, in North Arena. The event, now in its fifth year, is an exhibition basketball game featuring local Special Olympics players. The game was played at halftime of a Huntington North High School boys’ varsity basketball contest. Photo by Steve Clark.

Originally published Jan. 11, 2018.

Basketball players with Huntington County Special Olympics had an important question for County Coordinator Keith Hartley last fall.

When was their game at Huntington North High School?

“When we first (started) our basketball practice, end of October,” says Hartley, “that was one of the first questions they asked, ‘When are we playing at the school?’”

All of the players were looking forward to “A Special Ten Minutes.” Now in its fifth year, the event is an exhibition basketball game featuring local Special Olympics talent, played at halftime of a Huntington North boys’ varsity basketball contest.

Hartley calls the spectacle of the event “amazing.” When players take the court, they do so by running between two long lines of Huntington North students, who cheer them on and give out high-fives. When it’s time for the game to start, the students migrate to the perimeter of the court, forming a human rectangle that dispenses encouragement to the players throughout the game. At the sound of the final buzzer, the students rush the court, offering their congratulations to players on a game well played.

This year’s “A Special Ten Minutes” took place on Saturday, Jan. 6. Around 30 players participated in the game, said Hartley. Prior to the event, Huntington County Special Olympics’ three teams were reorganized into two and player rotations were drawn up.

“So, they all get a few minutes of playing time,” says Hartley.

One of Hartley’s favorite aspects of the game is that it gives players’ loved ones an opportunity to see them compete.

“It’s fun to see the kids out there on the big gym, so to speak, in front of their family and friends,” he says. “A lot of them don’t get to go to the games we go to.”

The Special Olympics basketball season, which runs from October through March, sees the Huntington County teams travel around the state. Among the squads’ destinations are Upland, Parker City and Elkhart.

“So, we’re kind of moving all the time and it’s good that we’re home so everybody can see what’s going on,” says Hartley.
The Huntington County Special Olympics teams will get another opportunity to play at home on Saturday, Jan. 27. The organization is hosting a basketball tournament at Huntington North, set to start at 9:30 a.m. and wrap up at 5 p.m. The event will attract around 50 teams from all over northern Indiana, notes Hartley.

Once basketball season draws to a close, track and field season will start kicking into gear, says Hartley. After track season, Huntington County Special Olympics will offer cornhole and ballroom dancing in the summer, followed by bowling in the fall.

“We keep a full plate,” says Hartley.

For more information about Huntington County Special Olympics, Hartley encourages people to visit www.soindiana-huntington.org. The organization can be reached at 672-8316 or soinhuntington@gmail.com.

While Hartley can count on his players asking him about “A Special Ten Minutes” at the start of each season, he knows he can also count on the community to help make it an unforgettable experience.

“It’s great,” he says. “They see that the Special Olympics athletes also need that … support behind them. These kids, and adults, we have both, play their hearts out every time they play.”