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Special-needs basketball team comes together at District 181

HINSDALE – There are a few occasions when the scoreboard doesn’t matter – when the feats of those on the basketball court transcend the game.

It started with an idea and a basketball from a seventh-grader at Hinsdale Middle School to help those at District 181 with special needs.

“I’ve been exposed to kids with autism my whole life,” said 12-year-old Conor Donlevy of Hinsdale. “They went to school with me since I was in second grade, so I knew a lot of them and knew they all had special identities, and I knew they needed to kind of branch out and become more social.”

Conor went to work and started the process to form a special-needs basketball team. To do so, he applied for a grant from the Foundation of Community Consolidated School District 181 and became one of the recipients of a D181 Foundation KIDS grant for the 2012-13 school year.

Conor received $150 after applying for the grant a few weeks into the school year. He used the money on team uniforms.

“When I was growing up, I was just taught to help others and just do whatever you could to help someone if they needed it,” Conor said. “I thought this was a way I could help people.”

Along with volunteers, Conor helped coach the team at its first practice in December. From the beginning, he also received help from Gus Lauermann, adaptive physical education teacher in District 181.

“Our goal was to have five kids and literally like two or three days later, 11 parents responded back and said, ‘Yes, my son or daughter is extremely interested,’” Lauermann said.

From the start, Lauermann said it was the students’ smiles and the looks in their eyes that made the effort worth it. The kids also were interacting with each other, which was one of the main focuses of the program.

Conor and Lauermann hosted 10 practices and the D181 Spartans played in three games and one tournament, which was held in January in Cicero.

By the end of the season in March, the Spartans, who were made up of a wide range of ages and grade levels from across District 181, did not win a single game – but they didn’t care.

Lauermann said at the end of one of the games, a player came up to him and asked if the team had won. He looked at her and said, “I don’t know, do you think we did?”

She then looked at him and said, “We won,” pointed at him and said, “You did great.”

“That’s like a conversation, which to me was the most monumental thing,” Lauermann said. “That’s something I’ll forever remember.”

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