The Joint Base Lewis-McChord Tigers participated in the Special Olympics Washington’s Winter Games March 2 to Sunday in Wenatchee, leaving with medals in both basketball and cheerleading.
The Tigers’ master team for ages 22 and older was able to take the gold medal after finishing the double-elimination tournament with a 3-1 record. The Tigers defeated the Spokane Wolfpack March 2, 92-87; followed by a win over the South Whidbey Wind, 92-87, later that day.
The Tigers faced the Wind a second time, losing 89-86. Both teams were in the final match, which JBLM won 95-89.
The Team Skills A group included Anthony Newlander, 28; Cathy Fowler, 25; Kyle Stewart, 19; Tina Facer, 18; and Elijah Hammon, 18. Christian RiveraPerez, 19, was the team’s alternate.
“They were able to stay fairly consistent, said JBLM head coach Genia Stewart. “We had three new players from last year, and that’s a testament to my coaches (Jim and Maggie Newlander).”
During the team skills competitions, four players stood at the corners of the baseline square and fifth, standing about two meters from the basket. The perimeter players either bounce passed or chest passed the ball to each other before the ball got to the center player for a shot attempt.
Five rounds in each half gave each player a chance to shoot. Teams then switched at halftime for another five rounds. The total possible points in each game was 110.
“They’re getting the experience of switching baskets and the coordination of passing and shooting,” Stewart said.
The Tigers’ junior team, ages 8 to 15, competed in the Team Skills B bracket; however, it was the only team with younger players. Still, the Tigers competed closely in two losses against the Sky Valley Hawks (95-86) and the Puyallup Vikings (85-82); both were master teams placed in the B bracket.
JBLM’s Team Skills B team included Ryan Nelson, 13; Ethan Crow, 11; Alina Torres, 11; Aaron Self, 10; and Joshua Velez-Ayala, 10.
“I’ll give credit to the coaches there, too,” Steward said. “They did really well, considering the age difference.”
The JBLM Tigers’ cheerleading team joined two other programs to compete in the first cheerleading competition in SOWA. Prior to this year’s Winter Games, cheerleading teams were not able to have a competitive stage to showcase what they learned through the season.
The team itself was formed three years ago when Kelbie Pogoncheff, 17, now a senior at Lakes High School, approached Stewart about forming a cheer team. Stewart talked to SOWA about including cheerleading at the state-level.
“It was a trial for Special Olympics to see how it would go,” Stewart said.
All three teams received gold for competing in their respective categories. JBLM competed in the Small, Unified Division — non-tumble, non-stunt. The team was composed of Donovan Gerg, 27; Sammie Elliott, 20; Soleil Baca, 18; Meghan Dirk, 16; TyAnna Brandley, 15; Myriam RiveraPerez, 12; Royale Laie, 11; and Shea Castellano, 9.
Clara Link, 45; Brittni Wainscott, 26; and Brandon Newlander, 12, each received gold medals in individual skills.
“Now the word is out, so that everyone else can see that cheerleading is happening now in Special Olympics Washington,” Stewart said. “Hopefully, it will spread and get some more teams involved in good, friendly competition.”