Special Olympics Team Canada basketball squads benefit from cross-country camaraderie

They may come from different courts in different communities across the country, but team spirit will be a strength for Special Olympics Team Canada 2023 basketball players.

The past few unprecedent years have led to a unique selection process for Special Olympics Team Canada. Because the pandemic disrupted the normal qualifying process, the athlete quota was distributed based on athlete registration at each Provincial/Territorial Chapter. As a result, it will truly be a pan-Canadian team that competes at Special Olympics World Games Berlin 2023.

Women’s basketball Head Coach Megan Penno says she has been impressed by how her team has come together. 

Megan Penno

“We are quite a diverse team (coast to coast, age range, family life, etc.), but from day one, every one of the athletes has bought in fully to the idea of us being one unit and to embrace our differences and support each other always.”

British Columbia athlete Malachy Stewart says at first it felt strange to join the men’s basketball team, since it was full of players he’d never met before. But it didn’t take long for them to come together on the court, and soon they were exchanging contact information and developing custom handshakes. 

Malachy Stewart

“I was a little nervous. Like, I dunno, these are top-line players – what's gonna happen? But instantly, it was like I was just right there. It was like we were brothers at first sight,” Stewart said. “There's no friction or anything. There are no disagreements in any way, shape or form. It's like just perfect. And we all get along.”

Ontario’s Kaylee Legault described a similar situation when she first laced up to train with the women’s team.

Bonnie-Jean Shade

“We have a really great team. We all clicked as soon as we saw each other at the first Training Camp. And I know we are a strong team with a strong bond,” she says. “I’m grateful to get to meet so many different people around Canada and to be able to compete in the sport I love the most and to be representing Canada in that sport.”

While players on both teams have had a great time forging friendships, they’ve also worked hard to build their basketball skills. 

“I am very impressed with how dedicated the players have been on working on their individual skill sets and conditioning while at home,” says Penno. “I saw a big change across the board in their ability to shoot the ball, be assertive on defense, rebound the ball, and move without the ball on offense. When it comes to team play, they remain positive and patient with each other while going through a pretty steep learning curve. I’m excited to see the progress we will make while in Berlin.”

Penno says she is grateful to have an opportunity to coach the athletes on the women’s basketball team and work with the squad’s amazing assistant coach and mission staff member. 

“When it comes to what I am most looking forward to, it’s to get to be a fan of these women on and off the court. I can't wait until I see their smiles and hear their laughter when we walk together into Opening Ceremony, or the first time a player reaches one of their individual goals on the court. This is going to be so much fun!”

Now that they’ve come together as teams, the next challenge for the men’s and women’s squads will be to find success with their teammates in Berlin.

“To me, this amazing opportunity will give me the chance to travel to a place I have never been, create and develop new relationships, as well as represent my country!” says Alberta athlete William Shepherd. “My goal for the Games is to be as loyal and hardworking of a teammate as possible, as well as to represent Canada with joy and pride!”

William Shepard