March 28, 2012 - Oxford is home to yet another group of state champions as the Paws, the hometown Special Olympics basketball team, brought home the gold over the weekend.
MEET THE PAWS – Front Row: Meaghan Guzanek, Audrey Clark, David Micheals, Alex Kiss and Sabrina Kiss. Second Row: Kathy Stull (Assistant Coach), Don Maskill (Assistant Coach) and Jeanne DiCicco (Head Coach). Back Row: Lindsay Long (Volunteer), Ryan Reason (Student Mentor), Bryan Bette, Richard Kanan, Seth Hinton, Greg Bette, Christopher Vandervoort and Louis Adams (Assistant Coach). Photo by C.J. Carnacchio.
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The Paws travelled to Rockford and won the State of Michigan Division 5 Championship after beating Marquette 46-37 on Friday and Bay City 33-26 on Saturday.
"The kids, right now, are floating on Cloud Nine," said Heade Coach Jeanne DiCicco. "They're very, very proud of their achievement and they should be. They had a very good feeling that they were going to go all the way."
DiCicco was extremely proud of the way her team performed from the tip-off to the final buzzer.
"The athletes played great," she said. "They worked really, really hard. They were devoted. They were patient. They played like a team. Everything we've been striving for, they did."
She was particularly pleased with her team's attitude.
"They went out there with their heads held high, full of confidence," DiCicco said. "You could see it in the way they played."
Prior to playing in the state championship, the Paws were 9-0 for the season.
A big win like this shows these athletes they can accomplish anything they put their minds to whether it's on the court or in life.
"It totally builds their self-confidence," DiCicco said. "It brings them to a whole other level of independence and self-worth."
"This whole experience was fulfilling in a way that is going to help them explore many more of their goals and reach them. They now know it can be done," she added. "I tell them all the time 'we never say never . . . we can do this . . . we can achieve any goal that we want.' In this program, nothing is unreachable. They realize that now."
Travelling together on the bus and staying overnight together really made the athletes feel like they were on a varsity level, or even collegiate, sports team, according to DiCicco.
"The camaraderie was amazing," she said.
DiCicco wished to thank all the volunteers and parents who came along to help out and "cheer us on."
She thanked the 24th Street Sports Tavern in downtown Oxford, Addison resident Rob Guzanek and the Parisian department store in Rochester Hills for helping with the team's fund-raising efforts, which enabled it to travel to Rockford.
DiCicco was also grateful for the school district's support, particularly that of Associate Superintendent Denise Sweat, who oversees Oxford's special education program.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.