MILWAUKEE -- No matter the skill level or size, hundreds of Special Olympic athletes opened the basketball season on a high note Sunday. Forty-eight teams from Milwaukee, Washington and Ozaukee Counties dribbled, passed and scored their way through the Milwaukee Vincent High School gym.
"We don't have to win," athlete Lynn Carus said. "If we win we win. If we don't, we don't."
Carus has played for more than 15 years. She dedicates her games to her god brother, Brandon Sprewer -- a fellow Special Olympic athlete killed by an armed robber in 2006.
"He looked after me and I really, really miss him," Carus said. "He just inspired me."
The tournament has grown over its 23 years. Sunday's was the largest ever, something the Milwaukee Recreation Department credits to the athletes loving the competition.
"It's such a great sport for individuals to succeed at because you can just dribble, or you can be able to shoot," Assistant Supervisor Jodie Donabar said. "Either way you're going to be part of a team."
Children as young as eight could sign up. Meanwhile the oldest athlete was 66. But you didn't need to be on the court to enjoy the games.
"I've got a couple of children and we all play basketball," Wheaton Franciscan volunteer David Cieszynski said. "Kind of a nice fit."
Cieszynski ran a scorers table with several of his sons. He thinks his first time here won't be his last.
"I'm blessed with my children, so I just like to give back as much as I can," Cieszynski said.
"This gives [the athletes] that self-confidence to actually go out and succeed in their own lives and this is the best way to do it," Donabar said.
This tournament and the Brandon Sprewer Memorial Tournament in February will prepare the athletes for the regional tournament. That will be held in early March at Homestead High School in Mequon.