Rock Island and Galesburg High Schools competed in a three-way round robin for the chance to qualify for the Special Olympics Regional Tournament.
MOLINE, Ill. – Moline High School hosted a Special Olympics Basketball Tournament on Nov. 5, giving student-athletes with individualized education programs the opportunity to compete in Olympic-style events.
Holly Vanherzeele, a Moline High School teacher, event planner and head coach of the Special Olympics Moline basketball team, has been part of the Moline Special Olympics program since 2017.
“I love these guys,” Vanherzeele said. “They’re part of my family. With co-teaching, I’m in the mainstream, so it gives me the opportunity to work with all levels. It’s really near and dear to my heart.”
One of those student-athletes is 18-year-old Jermiah Taylor-Johnson. He recently moved to the Quad Cities of Arkansas to be closer to his family. He is currently attending Rock Island High School.
“It’s the best game ever,” Taylor-Johnson said. “I love it.”
His brother, Ellery Stewart, says Taylor-Johnson always had a love for basketball, but didn’t get the opportunity to play on a school team in Arkansas.
“He always watched basketball,” Stewart said. “We play with him on the road. So when he moved here from Arkansas, they didn’t have anything like that there. So bringing him in was great and he loves playing for the team.”
And Taylor-Johnson’s passion for the game is noticed by his nephew Xavier Stewart.
“He’s very competitive and a very good sport with people,” Xavier said. “He’s not mean at all.”
And though he’s only had the chance to practice twice with Rock Island High School’s Special Olympics basketball team, head coach Jeff Martens has already noticed Taylor’s positive spirit. -Johnson.
“He came in and was a great kid,” Martens said. “He did a great job in terms of getting his feet ready and getting ready. He did a great job integrating with the rest of the crew and we really enjoyed having him.
And as for his brother, the sentiment is very similar.
“He makes us happy,” Stewart said. “Like he made us smile. Just seeing him smile made us smile.”
“And my brothers tell me, you have hard work, then I work hard and every time I come home I think about the games,” Taylor-Johnson said. “I said, ‘I’m about to win this game. And I keep telling my teammate, ‘we win this game, we win.’ I try to make it happen.”
Moline High School also held a bake sale and raffle during the event to support the school’s Special Olympics program.