A boom box is playing music, but no one can hear it over the constant ricochet of basketballs off the floor and backboards in the Badger High School gym.
About 50 Walworth County Adult Program Special Olympics athletes, between the ages of 13 to 70, are practicing their basketball skills, dribbling, passing and shooting buckets under the eight hoops in the school’s main gym.
Volunteer coaches organize layup drills and other practice routines for the athletes. Everyone tries, no one criticizes.
Betty Aguirre, founder of the county program, apologizes to a visitor. She expected as many as 80 of the athletes to be at the practice. But an unexpected evening storm laying down a blanket of snow over the city streets and county roads has apparently kept a number of them away, she said.
Also among those watching the practice on the sidelines is Roger Wolff formerly of Keefe Real Estate, Lake Geneva, now with Fairtax Consulting, Chicago.
Wolff’s son, Adam, is on one of the four Special Olympics teams. But there is another reason he was at the Badger gym on a snowy Wednesday night.
He’s delivering a grant check worth $2,500.
Wolff, who sits on the board of directors of the Geneva National Foundation, said the Walworth County Special Olympics program applied for a grant and the foundation came through.
The money will be used to buy basketball uniforms for the athletes, said Betty Aguirre, Genoa City, founder of the Walworth County Adult Program of the Special Olympics.
The program, which provides sports skills training, exercise and friendship for those with disabilities is now 28 years old.
The athletes in the Special Olympics program can participate in a wide variety of sports, Aguirre said.
In addition to basketball, the athletes participate in bowling, volleyball, swimming and aquatics, track and field in the spring and softball and bocce ball in the summer.
The program started up with just seven athletes and now serves about 200.
“I’m happy to see the program has gotten to where it is,” said Aguirre. “It shows there is a need within the community.”
Aguirre started the program because of her son Jamie, who has special needs. Aguirre is a medical technician at a veterans hospital in Chicago.
Aguirre said that Walworth County is open to all those intellectually and physically challenged residents in Walworth County. And they come from all corners of the county, said Aguirre.
The county program is governed by the state Special Olympics organization in Madison. But Aguirre said the Walworth County program gets no funds from the state organization.
It takes donations and fundraisers to come up with the money, she said.
The YMCA helps, Aguirre said. And so do local businesses.
And it’s not inexpensive. Aguirre said Walworth County Special Olympics needs about $8,000 a year just for transportation.
For example, on the weekend of Feb. 28 and March 1, the Walworth athletes, divided into four teams, traveled to Wilmot to compete in a Special Olympics basketball tournament.
But local businesses, boards and individuals step up year after year to keep the program going, she said.
Badger High School contributes by not charging the group an activity fee to use the gymnasium, Aguirre said.
Meanwhile, the coaches are all volunteers. Several are Badger students who are recruited by Mike Giovingo, the Badger associate
Aguirre said Giovingo had also been a volunteer coach, until his duties as assistant principal caused him to give it up.
All coaches are vetted for safety. And athletes’ medical histories are also checked every three years to make sure they are physically able to participate in sports, she said.
In the summer, Champs Sports Bar & Grill, 747 W. Main St., Lake Geneva, has a pig roast fundraiser for the local Special Olympics program.
On Monday, Feb. 23, Culver’s restaurant, 151 Wells St., Lake Geneva, donated a percentage of money it collected through sales along with money deposited in a collection bucket.
Jessica West, an athlete from Elkhorn, said she helped with the Culver’s fundraiser, taking food to tables and cleaning tables off.
She said the donation bucket along brought in about $1,200.
West has been active in the program for five years, and participates in basketball, swimming, volleyball and softball.
“It’s fun and keeps me active,” she said, before heading back to practice.
Benjamin Schulte, Whitewater, has been in the program for seven years. He also participates in basketball, swimming, tennis, and volleyball. Volleyball is his favorite, he said.