FAIRFIELD — The Fairfield Flaming Marshmallows are headed to the big leagues and will be competing in the state basketball competition in Iowa City next month.
The Special Olympics team saw three of its four basketball competitors come in first place in their respective age groups and categories at their regional competition last Saturday, Feb. 8. Taylor Phillips, 9, competed in the assisted dribble and Dorotea Orgovanyi, 12, competed in the unassisted dribble. Ian Jones, 11, and Jonathan Copeland, 16, competed in Basketball Skills Level 1, which consisted of a ten meter dribble, target pass and spot shot. Taylor, Dorotea and (Ian) will be advancing to the state level.
Team coach Janel Orgovanyi said the Flaming Marshmallows is the first kids Special Olympics team in the area since about 2012. Orgovanyi, alongside her friend Lisa Phillips, decided to head up the team for their children, who both have cerebral palsy. The pair hope to open up their roster to those in Jefferson County and beyond.
“It was something that was missing in the county, not only for the kids but adults too. It’s the second year without an adult team. The next closest team is in Ottumwa so we’re trying to open our team to the surrounding area,” Orgovanyi explained.
The mother explained Special Olympics are important because they allow kids with special needs to be involved and make friendships.
“It’s just being included and being part of a team and being rewarded for hard work. A lot of special needs kids are just left out, they don’t develop friendships as they get older and just kind of get left behind,” Orgovanyi said, “They just want to be included in everyday normal activities.”
The team coach said the kids who participate “just want to be part of something bigger,” and that the Special Olympics remind kids to work hard, even in the face of challenges presented by their disabilities.
“One of the mottos of the games is ‘If I can’t win, let me be brave in my attempt.’ The kids really learn they need to try hard and come to practice and put in the work,” she said.
Orgovanyi said children usually learn sports naturally through play at school but for special needs kids, who may require special accommodations, Special Olympics is the only chance they get to be part of a team.
“It’s not only a place for them to develop those skills, but it also comes at no cost. We really try to find sponsors who will help fund practices and equipment.
“No matter the special accommodation, we want to make sure all kids can participate, no matter what their ability level may be,” she said.
The team participates in different sports throughout the year. Depending on the popularity of the sport, the team grows and shrinks. Last October, the Flaming Marshmallow competed in bowling and also sent three team members to state. Following the state basketball competition, the team will begin preparing for track and field, which will take place in April.
“The kids love it, they’re all smiles,” Orgovanyi said.
When her daughter, Dorotea, was given her blue ribbon for unassisted dribbling at the award ceremony for the basketball competition, Orgovanyi said Dorotea became so overjoyed, she began screaming “I won! I won! I’m going to state.”
“She didn’t make it to state in bowling and she really wanted to make it to state. Her older sister, who is now 25, was in every sport so she’s been to all of these meets and competitions. The same goes for the other kids too — they’ve all watched their siblings compete and sat in the sidelines and bleachers. They know what it is to win,” she said.
Orgovanyi explained dribbling was a big challenge for Dorotea because her hand-eye-coordination is affected by cerebral palsy.
“When she started, she could only dribble 6 times in a minute. By the competition, she was up to 65 times in a minute. She knew she did hard work and she was rewarded for it,” Orgovanyi said.