Wasatch High hoopers represent Utah at Special Olympics in Orlando
Basketball players from Wasatch High School are playing for their state in this week’s Special Olympics.
“It is so cool,” says Head Coach Carla Bedingfield of the Wasatch High School Unified basketball team. “We are having the time of our lives. We're loving it.”
This week, the co-ed squad of student athletes ages 14 to 22 is wearing Team Utah jerseys at the Special Olympics at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida.
Wasatch earned the bid to play after winning a state championship way back in 2020. Due to COVID-related delays, the coaches didn’t get the word until summer of 2021, and they announced it to the players during a school assembly with the help of Utah First Lady Abby Cox in September.
“The kids were just ecstatic,” Bedingfield says. “They couldn't believe it. They were so excited. So we have really been practicing since September.”
In that time, they’ve held weekly practices, training camps, scrimmages with other Wasatch High School basketball teams and even worked out with the Utah Jazz in private clinics at Vivint Arena.
Now, the big week is here. They faced Colorado on Monday, Massachusetts on Tuesday and Florida Wednesday in pool play.Thursday and Friday are bracket games, where they’ll play for medals.
During pool play, the Utahns didn’t get any wins, but Bedingfield and her players have their own focuses. Before every game, each player determines an individual goal.
“Whether we win or lose, I want them to feel like they met that goal each time we play,” the head coach said. “It was a huge confidence builder; even if we didn't win, they felt like they succeeded, and that, to me, really is the most important because they're playing their hearts out.”
One player’s goal was to make a basket, while others resolved to work on passing, play with better teamwork and hustle more.
Building confidence and learning life lessons are the coaches’ priorities for the teams. Bedingfield said the build-up to playing under the national spotlight has already spread awareness of the team locally - and spread the notion that everyone at the school who wants to can enjoy the game.
In November, Assistant Coach Sami Graham became the first person in a Unified program to be named Utah High School Activities Association Coach of the Year.
Now in Orlando with the team, she’s enjoying the experiences her players are having alongside Bedingfield and fellow Assistant Coach Candylynne Peterson.
“The friendships that we’re making — after we played Massachusetts, they wanted a team picture with us, they exchanged numbers,” Graham says. “It's just really cool to see that they're making friends from other states that we’re playing in competitive sports.”
The coaches said Team Florida showed sportsmanship during a rough stretch for Team Utah. They decided to make sure every player on Team Utah got a chance to shoot and followed through. Every player hit their personal goal in the Florida game, even Noah Wright, who was on the sideline due to an injury.
Depending on how the games go, the team could play up to three games Thursday and more on Friday before returning home to Heber City.
For more on the Unified program, visit wasatchhighathletics.com.