WAVERLY (SNR) – The Villa Marie Eagles won the Special Olympics state basketball tournament April 7.
Principal Sister Jeanette Rerucha called the final match-up, which went into four overtimes a “David versus Goliath type game.”
The first Saturday of April was the date of the Special Olympics state basketball tournament. Villa Marie had won their previous game against Omaha Express 26-18. The win ensured the Eagles that they would meet an old nemesis, the Norris Titans, in the final.
The Titans have been the premier 3-on-3 basketball program for several years, coaches reported. They have won at least four state titles in a row and were previously undefeated in that time.
“Norris is a well-coached and disciplined team, fully supported by their school and community,” Villa Marie’s coach Matt Jelik said. “When they enter the gym, it can be pretty intimidating. They show up in full dress uniforms, and it is not unusual for them to be accompanied by their varsity basketball team and cheerleaders.”
Villa Marie senior Creighton remarked, “Our game against Norris was truly a battle of the Titans.”
The Eagles started out with the first two baskets and it was a see-saw game from then on. The lead changed hands more than 10 times, and the game ended after four overtimes, with the Eagles victorious in a 34-32 decision.
Coach Greg Gibney added, “It was a basketball experience that was unparalleled in my lifetime of playing.” His comment was quite an endorsement, given that Gibney is a basketball hall of fame member at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa.
More than 150 basketball fans attended the memorable game.
“We felt, if we could keep it close, we had a chance to win,” Jelik said. “We told the players in the huddle, ‘you are in this game because you deserve to be in the championship, you have put yourself in this position, now go make the most of it.’”
Jilek added, “There can be no victory without struggle.”
First-year basketball player Christian stated with a smile, “We defeated the undefeatable.”
Veteran player Ty added, “It feels good to be number one! We made our parents happy and proud. Coach pushed us in practice but it was worth it.”
The Eagles hold a weekly practice from late September until early April. It is pretty common for the coaches to ask the participants, at practice, for “one more” – one more lap to run, one more free-throw to be made, and one more act of kindness toward one another.
“The coaches teach the children that their extra efforts will pay off handsomely someday and sometime,” Sister Jeanette said. “Saturday was that day.”
The Eagles, under coach Jilek, had won a state title in 2014 in a different age bracket, but played in an open division this year. Participants ranged in age from 12-60 years.
“It can be very challenging to have junior high/high school players going against college or retirement-age participants. I think I saw a few grandchildren rooting for their grandpas out there,” said Jilek with a laugh.
Sister Jeanette said the Villa Marie Eagles Team has had tremendous support from parents, staff members, family, friends, and alumni who took time on a Saturday morning to come out and cheer for the kids. Through their encouragement, prayers, time, talent, and treasures, the team achieved something very special. Four Pius students—Kristie Le, Hanna Lyons, Elisa Gorton, and Mikayla Overhalser, also have been faithfully coming to Villa Marie on Thursday evenings to help with practice, and served as cheerleaders for the championship games.
“Coach Gibney and I can get a big-time program impression at times when we are out and about in the Catholic community,” Jelik said. “Along with the perks can come the ‘pressure.’ I have been approached by many of the Marian Sisters, a bishop, and Msgr. (John) Perkinton about when we will win the “big one” against Norris. It is all in good fun!” said Jilek.
Both coaches agreed that the kids received medals but the coaches get a much greater award, and that is to work with these kids, week-in and week-out.
In addition to the gold medals the 3-on-3-team received, Luke Bartek also earned first place in the individual skills competition. He demonstrated excellence in passing, dribbling, and shooting baskets.
Villa Marie also participates in Special Olympics bowling, track and field. Three of the five members of the bowling team earned medals at the state competition March 31. Christian Waddell and Mike Egr earned silver medals in their divisions, and Noah James won a bronze medal. The track and field athletes are preparing for their Regional Competition April 22 at Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln.
Villa Marie Home and School for Exceptional Children, located between Lincoln and Waverly, serves qualifying students who are in need of special educational services. It is staffed by four Marian Sisters and eight lay staff members, both full and part time. Villa Marie was founded by Msgr. James Dawson and has been in operation since 1964.
The basketball program is staffed by volunteers and head coach Jilek and Greg Gibney. Both are members of St. Joseph Parish in Lincoln. They align themselves with the mission of Villa Marie, to form the students spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, socially, and physically, in partnership with the parents and in harmony with the specific gifts given by God.