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-type events.
Moline High School teacher, event organizer and head coach for Moline's Special Olympics basketball team, Holly Vanherzeele, has been a part of Moline's Special Olympics program since 2017.
"I love these guys," said Vanherzeele. "They're a part of my family. With co-teaching, I'm out in the gen-ed setting, so this gives me an opportunity to work with all levels. This is really near and dear to my heart."
One such student-athlete is 18-year-old Jermiah Taylor-Johnson. He recently moved to the Quad Cities from Arkansas to be closer with his family. He currently attends Rock Island High School.
"This is the best game ever," said Taylor-Johnson. "I love it."
His brother, Ellery Stewart, says Taylor-Johnson has always had a love for basketball, but didn't get the opportunity to play on a school team in Arkansas.
"He's always watched basketball," said Stewart. "We play with him outside. So when he moved here from Arkansas, they didn't have anything like that there. So getting him into this 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 around people," said Xavier. "He's not mean at all."
And despite only having the chance to practice with Rock Island High School's Special Olympics Basketball team twice, head coach Jeff Martens has already noticed Taylor-Johnson's positive spirit.
"He's come in and has been just a tremendous kid," said Martens. "He's done a great job as far as coming in and getting his feet wet. He's done a great job of fitting in with the rest of the crew and we've really enjoyed having him.
And as for his brother, the sentiment is very similar.
"He makes us happy," said Stewart. "Like he makes us smile. Just to see him smile makes us smile."
"And my brothers telling me, you got work hard, and then I work hard and then every time I go home, I think about the games," said Taylor-Johnson. "I said, 'I'm about to win this game.' And I keep telling my teammate, 'we win this game, we win.' I'm trying 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.