Special Olympians are Gold Medalists

The Nashoba Chieftains Special Olympics basketball team with their Gold Medals
Courtesy Peggy Kennedy

By Ellen Oliver

Thomas Jefferson said, “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.” The Nashoba Chieftain Special Olympics basketball team has been working hard since last June to prepare for a berth in the Massachusetts Special Olympics state championships. And guess what? Those lucky ducks came home with gold medals.

The Special Olympics of Massachusetts (SOMA) Winter Games ran over March 9 and 10 with the basketball tournaments held at eight locations around Worcester. There were 166 teams competing from across the Commonwealth, organized into divisions based on age and whether or not there are helpers on the team (unified). The Nashoba Chieftains played their four games in the under 22, traditional (no volunteers on the court) division at the Worcester Technical High School.

The first game was on Saturday, March 9, against the Lawrence Lil Mite Lancers. The Lancers gave the Chieftains a game, but Nashoba prevailed 36-22. A few hours later, Nashoba defeated the Learning Prep School Team B 32-18.

Stow resident Nick Giovinazzo is one of 11 players on the Nashoba Chieftains team. Giovinazzo said, “My team is going well. I feel we can do it. We all do our best to make our coach proud.”

Sunday morning started with a 9:20 am game that had the Chieftains battling with the STEP Dogs to a 40-18 victory. Finally the HC Stingers fell to the Chieftains 50-26, naming the undefeated Nashoba Chieftains Special Olympic gold medalists.

Coach Brendan Aylward said the key to the team’s victory was solid basketball skills. “As a team, we learned a lot about boxing out

Gold! Nick Giovinazzo jumps into the arms of Coach Brendan Aylward
Peggy Kennedy

and talked about zone defense. They started to understand where to go,” he said. “On offense, we did a good job of passing the ball, something a lot of other teams didn’t do as well.” The passing skills also allowed almost every member of the team to score over the course of the tournament.

During the medals ceremony, the tournament volunteers lined up to high-five each player as the names were announced and the player ran in to receive a medal. “They were pretty pumped up,” said Aylward. “Everyone was really excited.”

The Chieftain’s winning spirit may have been sparked during the assessment round back on February 2. After the two games at Bridgewater/Raynham High School which allowed the coaches and officials to place the teams in appropriate divisions, Aylward said he noticed a difference in his team. “After the assessment round they seemed to realize they were competing,” he explained. “They got much better taking the ball from the other team and not letting them score.”

Giovinazzo said that on the court, most of the communication focuses on encouragement, not setting plays. “I say ‘good game’ to my teammates and ‘good job.’ We have fun,” he said. Giovinazzo also praised his coach. “Brendan is really nice. He motivates us and gets our hearts pumping.”

Aylward, who had assistance coaching from James Ryan and Erin O’Donnell, said the best part of this experience for him is seeing the relationships develop between his players. “A lot of the kids are close friends now outside of basketball. The parents thank us that their kids are part of this team.”