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March 20, 2013

Police, Special Olympians square off against Detroit Lions for fundraiser

By K. Michelle Moran
C & G Staff Writer

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Police, Special Olympians square off against Detroit Lions for fundraiser
Police and public safety officers and Special Olympians from the Grosse Pointes and Harper Woods squared off against members of the Detroit Lions in a charity basketball game last year at Grosse Pointe South High School. The second annual game takes place March 28 at South.

GROSSE POINTE FARMS — The crowd will again be roaring at Grosse Pointe South High School.

For the second straight year, police and public safety officers from Harper Woods and the Grosse Pointes will be squaring off against members of the Detroit Lions in a charity basketball game in which proceeds will go to two local nonprofits — Services for Older Citizens and the Grosse Pointe/Harper Woods Community Special Olympics. The game will take place at 7 p.m. March 28 in the main gym at Grosse Pointe South High School. The event is being organized by the Grosse Pointe Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 102, whose members hail from the five Pointes and Harper Woods.

“It’s a great community event, where everybody has a chance to come together to do something for (organizations) who do so much for us,” said FOP Lodge 102 President Joseph Adams, a public safety officer in Grosse Pointe City.

R&B legend Anita Baker, a Grosse Pointer, is expected to sing the National Anthem again this year, if her schedule permits. And during halftime, members of the Lions will be signing autographs, as they did last year, Adams said. He said there would be a 50/50 raffle, as well.

Last year, they had been hoping for about 500 attendees. Instead, more than 1,000 showed up, “which showed the community’s support,” Adams said.

“I was surprised by the amount (of attendees) we had last year,” he said. “I’m excited about it this year.”

They’re hoping to draw an even bigger crowd March 28.

“Each year, we want to grow it and grow it and grow it,” Adams said.

In 2012, they were able to donate $2,500 each to SOC and Grosse Pointe Harper Woods Community Special Olympics, he said.

“We hope to get that (much), if not more this year,” Adams said.

Besides about 12 officers, the “home” team will include four Special Olympians: Megan Wiley, of Grosse Pointe Park; Daniel Weiner, of Grosse Pointe City; Javon Ellis, of Grosse Pointe City; and Chris Sobetski, of Chesterfield Township. Four different local members of Special Olympics participated last year.

“All four athletes had a wonderful experience, except they really thought they could beat the Lions,” said Chris Beck, president and coordinator of the Grosse Pointe/Harper Woods Community Special Olympics, in an email interview. Adams said the Lions won the game by a single point.

“For every (Special Olympics) athlete, it is special in their own way, from seeing all the people come to watch, to putting on the basketball uniform, to making a basket and hearing the roar of the crowd,” Beck continued. “Along with the Lions and FOP, it is their moment to shine in the spotlight of a game. Win or lose, it is a championship in the making. All four will remember it for years.”

Beck’s son, Trevor, was among the Special Olympians last year, and he joked that he’s going to have to restrain Trevor this year to keep him from storming the court and “either try and score or just face off, muscle to muscle, with the players again, as he did last year.” To give more athletes a chance to participate, Beck said they chose four new Special Olympians this year — two from each of the group’s teams.

Fundraisers like this are critical for both recipients. SOC will soon be opening its first stand-alone facility for senior programs in Grosse Pointe Farms, behind Henry Ford Health Services-Cottage, where supporters hope to increase offerings for the area’s growing senior population. And Beck said Special Olympics programs can get costly for parents, from the cost of uniforms to facility fees.

“We never want to get to the point where we must limit the number of individuals able to participate because of cost,” Beck said. “For most, Special Olympics is the only opportunity for competitive sports participation beyond neighborhood clubs, and even those are somewhat restrictive for special needs individuals.  For a special needs athlete to not be able to play because we cannot afford it would be devastating both for the athlete, as well as our group.”

Raising awareness of the local Special Olympics organization is just as important, said Beck. And it makes for a memorable evening for attendees, as well as players.

“It is an experience those who participate and those who watch will cherish for years to come,” he said. “All four (Special Olympians) continue to talk about the great time they had last year.”

There are about 70 active members of the Grosse Pointe/ Harper Woods group, Beck said.

Adams said the FOP members see this as “a way we can give back” to the community. He said everyone is volunteering their time, with the Lions doing so through their nonprofit foundation.

The family-friendly event has “something for everybody,” Adams said.

“It was very energetic, with the whole crowd,” he said of last year’s game. “The Lions were excited to see Anita Baker. People in the stands were excited to see the Lions.”

It was just as moving as it was thrilling, with highlights that reminded everyone of the reason for the game.

“One of the most special moments last year was when one of the four athletes who participated in the event wanted to give the FOP one of his Gold Medals he won at a previous (Special Olympics) tournament, as a thank-you to all that the FOP and Detroit Lions did for him and all the athletes that evening,” Beck said. “We incorporated that medal onto a plaque presented to the FOP in recognition of their support. For all that these special needs individuals have gone through and will continue to go through, they all touch our hearts in so many ways and give us so much more than they ever receive.”

Grosse Pointe South High School is located at 11 Grosse Pointe Blvd., at Fisher. Tickets are $15 for individuals or $35 for a family, regardless of size. Tickets will be sold at the door and in advance. For advance tickets or more information, call Wolverine Productions at (810) 235-3982. For more information about the Grosse Pointe/ Harper Woods Special Olympics group or to support the organization, call Beck at (313) 473-8399. For more about SOC, call (313) 882-9600.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer K. Michelle Moran at kmoran@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1047.