With Natchez High School teacher Arther Robinson, right, looking on, 7-year-old LaQuan Bradley dribbles a basketball Friday morning at the Special Olympics basketball tournament in Martin Gymnasium in Natchez. (Jay Sowers \ The Natchez Democrat)
With Natchez High School teacher Arther Robinson, right, looking on, 7-year-old LaQuan Bradley dribbles a basketball Friday morning at the Special Olympics basketball tournament in Martin Gymnasium in Natchez. (Jay Sowers \ The Natchez Democrat)

Area 7 Special Olympics hosts annual basketball camp

Published 12:01am Saturday, February 23, 2013

NATCHEZ — Win or lose, Michael Champ said he just wants to have a good time playing basketball.

At 50 years old, Champ was one of a number of older athletes in attendance at the annual Special Olympics basketball tournament Friday at the Martin Gymnasium. The camp hosted athletes from as young as 6 to as old as 69, and Champ said the camp provided plenty of opportunities to play with friends.

“I enjoy basketball,” Champ said. “It’s fun, and it keeps you from being bored. The most fun is winning, but sometimes you lose. It’s all about having fun.”

And having someone to share in the fun, as is the case with Champ and his basketball buddy, Thomas Luckett.

Volunteer Thaddeus Mayberry Jr., center, exchanges high fives with a group of youngsters before they played a game of basketball together on Friday morning in Martin Gymnasium in Natchez. (Jay Sowers \ The Natchez Democrat)
Volunteer Thaddeus Mayberry Jr., center, exchanges high fives with a group of youngsters before they played a game of basketball together on Friday morning in Martin Gymnasium in Natchez. (Jay Sowers \ The Natchez Democrat)

“We’ve been playing (together) for a long time,” said Luckett, 42. “I’ve known him a long time, so we’re used to each other.”

Champ said they’ve even developed certain roles on the court when they’re playing together.

“He’s alright,” Champ said of Luckett’s skills. “He’s the tall one, so he gets the most rebounds.”

Sharing the ball is something Luckett tries to do every time he plays with Champ, he said.

“I depend on him to be there,” Luckett said. “I get him the ball. If he throws it to me, I throw it back to him.”

Mississippi Area 7 Special Olympics Director Tommie Jones said the camp hosted 163 athletes, with both 3-on-3 and 5-on-5 games, as well as basketball skills coaching.

“Some of them get physical skills as well as motor skills,” Jones said. “It helps build confidence and gives them a positive self image.”

It also helps develop social skills, Jones added.

“They develop socially, mentally and spiritually,” Jones said. “They make friends and learn new activities. For a lot of them, this is their first time in competition for basketball. For some, this is their first time to be heard.”

William Bell, 51, said Friday was his first chance to play basketball in quite some time.

“The only thing I like is when you shoot and don’t miss,” Bell said. “Most of the time I miss, because I’m out of practice.”

But when he does make it, Bell said he loves the feeling of success.

“It’s a good feeling, because you know you’ve been successful at the game, but I could be more successful at the game,” Bell said. “But you have to try. If you don’t try, you’ll never know.”

For 7-year-old Laquan Bradley, the camp was a good opportunity to brush up on his basketball skills. He said the camp was helping him learn to shoot and pass the ball.

“Shooting is the most important, because if you don’t shoot, they’re going to take it away from you,” Bradley said.

Seven-year-old Bryant Mearday said he’s been participating in the basketball camp for almost his whole life.

“I like to have fun,” Mearday said. “I like to shoot, and I feel like a man (after hitting a shot).”

Next up for Area 7 athletes will be track and field activities, and the state games will begin in May.