At 14 years old, Jacob Brauckmann knows what he likes: basketball.
The Grade 8 Elgin Park Secondary student has been playing the game since he learned to walk, and wouldn’t trade an opportunity to shoot hoops for anything.
“It’s my favourite sport,” the teen told Peace Arch News Friday.
So when Jacob’s mom, Deborah Cooper, learned of an opportunity in South Surrey for her son to play the game at his own pace on a regular basis, she decided to check it out.
The Special Olympics Sport Start program – run by volunteer organizers Bob de Wit and Susan Richards de Wit, with assistance from Semiahmoo Secondary Grade 12s Betsy Bovich and Megan Mohan – runs weekly at Jessie Lee Elementary. Alternating between basketball and soccer, it’s a place for young athletes like Jacob to experience entry-level sport in a fun, safe environment to the best of their abilities.
Jacob, who has Down Syndrome, plays basketball on a Steve Nash team, and is a member of Elgin’s Grade 8 squad, and Cooper admits she wondered if the Sport Start program would challenge him.
But she quickly realized it would be a perfect fit.
“I hadn’t really had him involved in any special-needs program,” Cooper said. “The minute that I walked in there, I just knew it would be a great place for him. He’s just flourished.”
In addition to working on his own skills, Jacob has thrived on opportunities to be a leader, Cooper said. The kids also get time at the beginning and end of each session to talk about various topics, including what they liked about that day’s activity.
And unlike the games Jacob plays with typical kids – where actual contact with the ball is often minimal – at Sport Start, the pace is slower, the players help each other and everyone gets in the game.
“At Special O, he can feel like he’s Kobe Bryant,” Cooper said. “He can move the ball, he can shoot the hoops.
“I feel very blessed that we were able to kind of hook into that, that whole culture.”
Susan Richards de Wit said response to the program, which launched in 2013, has been steady, as has the interest in expanding it to include floor hockey.
The challenge there, however, has proved difficult. Equipment required for the game is expensive, and many parents don’t want – or can’t afford – to commit to the cost.
While Richards de Wit has lined up a mentor for the program – a player from the Special Olympics floor-hockey group in North Surrey – as Sport Start is volunteer-run, there is no funding to draw on for the equipment.
“We’ve kind of got it lined up, we’re just lacking funds,” she said.
Jacob said he would definitely be game to try another sport. At Sport Start, there’s good players, everybody passes and no one pushes, he said.
Cooper can also only see benefits.
“At the very basic level, the program’s designed to help them develop skills,” she said. “What it ends up being is a really beautiful group of peers and it’s a really safe environment where they can do things they might not otherwise.
“A lot of them might be ready to try something new.”
Anyone interested in donating floor-hockey equipment or funds to help purchase it, or looking for more information about Sport Start, may call 604-782-2287.