Column: Line Drives — Getting involved a special feeling

[This is my column from today’s special Thanksgiving issue of The Commercial Review.]

As a journalist, it’s a privilege to be able to embed yourself fully into a subject matter to gather the entire story.

These types of stories are not only prevalent in covering things such as foreign wars, but delicate stories within the sports world as well.

Some of the feature stories in Sports Illustrated are the type of assignments I can only dream to have; to be totally immersed in an environment to churn out a heart felt, human-interest story.

When I was given the task to tackle the story of the Jay County Panthers — the Special Olympics basketball team chosen to represent Team Indiana in Princeton, N.J., at the USA games in June — I took it upon myself to try and create that feeling of being completely involved.

And what I got in return was more than a story.

I met the team for the first time Oct. 30, and at the conclusion of our meeting I was asked to come practice with the team while it undertakes the final eight months of its 10-month practice and training regimen.

At first I was apprehensive because I am the self-proclaimed worst basketball player on the planet. Everything about my game is atrocious, and there’s no denying that fact.

“It’s okay, you’ll have a good time,” I was told.

I replied with “I’m not sure, it depends on my schedule.”

After a short deliberation period, I decided to give it a chance, simply because I thought it would help me get a better understanding of the players and the team. Maybe it will even allow me to become a halfway decent player.

At the very least, it will help me live a more active lifestyle, something I’ve been finding hard to do since I started this new job.

Me playing basketball may come as a surprise to those of you who read my column from Nov. 14, when I admitted the sport is not a vested interest of mine. But when other people told me I would not regret the decision to play, it was a no-brainer.

Therefore, I’ve spent the last three weeks practicing with the Panthers.

It’s my own way of getting an accurate representation of their road to New Jersey for my story.

The potential for this team is tremendous. The players complement each other really well.

There’s Tyler Reck, who is one of the tallest players on the team and a huge presence below the basket.

Kyle Scott has taken the role of point guard, and his quickness and vision on the court are impeccable. The lefty also has the ability to shoot from seemingly anywhere on the court.

Conner Hoyt and Josh Griffin are exceptional players as well. Griffin can control the ball and is a vocal leader on the team, and Hoyt can grab rebounds as easily as Reck.

Ethan Wendel and Ty Weesner, both of whom I’ve been given the challenge of trying to defend, are lanky kids with motors that don’t stop. The pair can wear out defenses on their own just running around the court trying to get open.

Then there’s Sam Glessner, Ron Smith and Mark Knipp, all of whom can surprise a defense by playing in spot roles and making some shots.

Lastly, there’s Shelli Roser, the 2013 Special Olympics Indiana athlete of the year. She may be short, but she’s a gritty player and acts as the mother figure for the team.

Jay County has good reason to believe it has the ability to bring home a national championship. Not only has it won easily — the team cruised to a lopsided victory in the semi-state game — it handles adversity well too.

The Panthers scored the final eight points of the state championship to earn a comeback victory.

Although my time with the team for purposes of writing a story is complete, my involvement will not end there.

I plan to continue to go over to East Elementary on Mondays and Wednesdays, when my schedule allows, and practice with the team as June approaches.

Why? Because like Alex Dunn said, it’s all about family.

And this group is becoming like family to me.

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