The season ended for the West Middle School eighth-grade boys basketball team more than a week ago, but that didn’t keep the players out of the gym Wednesday.
For 45 minutes, the Warhawks shot baskets, scrimmaged and joked with seven of the school’s special education students. It was the team’s version of fan appreciation day.
“We wanted to show them that they are Warhawks and deserve to be here, too,” center Garrett Swisher said.
Eighth-grade boys basketball isn’t known for having a large fan base. But over the course of the season, the special education students followed their fellow Warhawks with zeal.
The interest grew out of the ties the team’s coach Curtis Field would wear to school on game days. Field is also a paraeducator in the special education classroom and his students wanted to know about the ties. He told them he wore them for basketball games and soon they began asking if Field’s team had won.
It wasn’t long before the students started coming to games to cheer on the players.
“You would have thought they were watching the Jayhawks,” functional skills resource teacher Jane Scarffe said.
The players appreciated the students’ presence.
“Their support helped,” Swisher said.
In the end, the Warhawks finished the season 11-4 and capped the year with a championship title at the Atchison eighth-grade basketball tournament.
Field said he wanted to find a time for the students and basketball team to interact. So, he organized an end-of-season practice where players and special education students had a chance to shoot, dribble and pass together.
The excitement was obvious on Wednesday.
“It seemed like they enjoyed it and we did, too,” point guard Bryce Torneden said.
As the players gathered around their coach one last time Wednesday, Field urged them to continue the friendships that started on the court.
“I know the kids all walked out of here with huge smiles,” he said. “When you see the kids in the hallway, remember their names and say hi to them. You will make their day.”