Basketballers rewarded with selection

SEVEN Illawarra basketballers have the opportunity of a lifetime when they represent Australia at the 2013 Special Olympics Asia Pacific Games.

Grant Francis and Tahlia Henson (Kiama), Dane Pritchard (Balgownie), Shane Monks (Shellharbour), Timothy Walsh (Gwynneville), Neb Stanojlovic (Warilla), Grant Francis (Kiama), Tahlia Henson (Kiama) and West McKinnon (Berkeley), travelled to Newcastle for the Games, taking place this week.

The event brings together 32 nations competing in basketball, athletics, aquatics, badminton, bocce, cricket, football and ten-pin bowling.

More than 2500 athletes and their carers, 6000 officials, 4000 volunteers and 200,000 spectators will take part.

Special Olympics Illawarra vice-chairwoman Amanda Koloski said having seven players selected to play basketball was a huge achievement.

Koloski's sister, Lisa Keen, is a Games athletes' ambassador.

Keen has represented Australia twice at the Special Olympics but is unable to compete this time after major brain surgery for Tourette's syndrome.

"She'll meet and greet athletes arriving at the airport and she'll also say a speech at the opening ceremony," Koloski said.

"It's huge for her."

Players train on Fridays at the Snakepit and more recently at Berkeley, coached by Rudi Kolednik and Leanne Secombe.

They will be divided into different national grade teams at the Games.

Monks, 23, said it was special to be selected.

"It makes me proud," he said.

"I want to win gold."

McKinnon and Walsh had played with the Jammers since they were eight and nine.

For Francis, who got into the sport four years ago, it was a dream to be selected.

"To represent your country in your country is a big thing," Koloski said.

"You talk to them and the tears flow just to mention it."

Competing in the Games costs $3000 per athlete.

This means the players' families and supporters, led by co-ordinator Richard Keen, have been raising funds through a variety of means.

Koloski said while bringing home gold medals would be nice, the main thing was for the players to have a good time.

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