CHESTERFIELD, VA (WWBT) - It may be March Madness, but a tournament with even more meaning took place Thursday at Monacan High School.
The Medford League was created to give high school students with special needs the opportunity to train and compete in basketball, but for the players on the court, the experience extends far beyond the hardwood.
"This tournament is bigger than March Madness. It stands for something. It stands for hope, for inclusion, for these kids feeling more and more like they belong in the community," said Meadowbrook coach Drew Walker, who works full-time as a physical education teacher at the school and volunteers as a coach for his students with special needs. "It gets our kids out of the shadows, in front of the student body on a weekly basis. They become mini celebrities."
Coaches are seeing a change in the players, who are more willing to participate in class. They're also seeing a change in the student body as a whole, with students becoming more inclusive with their peers.
"It brings me joy to bring attention to someone who deserves it," said student Isiah Moore, who supports the athletes at each game. Moore is a football player in his senior year. He's used to being on the field but is more than happy to sit on the sidelines to cheer for the players in the Medford League.
"To see them work hard at something and achieve it, it's a huge milestone. I'm so thankful for this program," said Stelphonia Chambliss, whose has seen changes in her son during his first season. "I wish we would've moved here a lot sooner for him. Just being part of a team, him wanting to achieve more things and be successful at it. This feeling right here, I wouldn't trade it for the world."
Cheering alongside her are cheerleading teams made up of students with special needs. Coaches have seen more and more students sign up to play in the league. The growing program includes players from nine Chesterfield County high schools and Powhatan High. Throughout the season, the teams compete against each other each week.
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