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Storm Special Olympics Teams Earn Success at State Tournament

Every March, when the nation turns its attention to basketball seeds and brackets, there’s one particular tournament that holds a special place in the hearts of athletes, parents, coaches and volunteers, alike. The Storm Special Olympics team, representing central Kansas, had the opportunity to participate in that tourney last week.

Carry The Torch  –  Kaleb Nixon of Storm Special Olympics team takes the torch during the opening ceremony on March 22 for the 2024 Kansas Special Olympics State Basketball and Cheerleading Competition, held at Fort Hays State University’s Gross Memorial Coliseum.

COURTESY PHOTO: Central Kansas Sports Media

For the western half of the state, the Special Olympics Basketball and Cheerleading Tournament was held in Hays on March 22 and 23. The eastern half of the state held its state tourney in Manhattan on March 15 and 16. More than 60 teams in the western half, representing nearly 18 organizations, converged on Fort Hays State University and Hays Recreation Center for the two-day tournament.

The Hays and Manhattan tournaments combined account for more than 2,000 athletes, coaches, volunteers and fans, making the state basketball tournament the largest event for individuals with developmental disabilities in the state of Kansas. This year represented the 45th year that the tournament has been held in Hays out of 51 years of conducting the tournament, which comprises 5-versus-5 basketball, cheerleading and athletes participating in individual skills drills.

“The state tournament is a lot of work, but it is definitely a lot of fun for our athletes, and it also provides a lot of teachable moments in the process,” stated Amanda Hammond, Local Program Coordinator for the Storm team. “We had tremendous success at this year’s tournament, regardless of whether the teams won or lost. A lot of credit goes to the athletes themselves, along with our coaches, and a big shout-out goes to the parents and family members who came to help. All the extra support and help made such a huge difference for our athletes.”

Here to Cheer – Members of Storm Cheerleading gather following the team’s performances March 23 at the Kansas Special Olympics Cheerleading Competition, held at Fort Hays State University’s Gross Memorial Coliseum. Pictured left to right - Back: Darren Brown, Kaleb Nixon, Josh Trimmer, Cole Morin, Amanda Hammond (coach); Middle: Dawn Specht, Jaylin Weers, Caitlyn Stinger, Elisa Shores, Robin Bethel; Front: Samantha Purcell, Tori, Rose; Abbey Stanley.

Teachable moments resulted in a break-through game for Storm Hurricane, coached by Hammond. The team went to triple overtime during its second game of the tournament, and then had to make a tie-breaker basket to win the game. Storm Cyclone had to hold off a pesky team to win by four in its final game of the tournament. Storm Lightning was down 6-0 after the first quarter, but rallied by implementing a box-and-1 defense to win its second game in the tourney. And Storm Cheerleading overcame pre-competition adversity and jitters to snag a silver medal in its cheerleading competition.

“Yes, winning is fun and it was wonderful when our team got the triple overtime win,” explained Hammond. “But I feel like Special Olympics provides so much more than winning or losing games. Working through the whole process and experience in competition helps them to also work through their very strong emotions in their day-to-day lives. Special Olympics competition helps to build their confidence, allows them to work through their emotions, and helps them to build relationships with their teammates and other participants.” 

Below are the names of the Storm Special Olympics athletes who competed in the Special Olympics State Basketball and Cheerleading Competition in Hays last weekend. They were divided up into four teams, along with the cheerleading team.

Snow: David Brack Logan Gregg, Donnie Lewis, Tyler Michaelis, Tori Rose – Coaches: Carole Edwardson and Emily Komarek. Finish = Silver Medal with 2-1 record.

Hurricane: David Brack (played for Snow and Hurricane), Darren Brown, Wain Waymaster, Michael Manka Jordan Palacio, Robin Bethel, Samantha Purcell, Curtis Schneweis, Abbey Stanley - Coach: Amanda Hammond. Finish = Bronze Medal with 1-2 record.

Cyclone: David Edwardson, Audrey Koster, Dylan Lebbin, Cole Morin, Elisa Shores, Steven Smolik, Dawn Specht, Josh Trimmer - Coaches: Boe Levingston and Jim Boehnke. Finish = Gold Medal with 3-0 record.

Lightning: Kaleb Beckham, James Boehnke, Codie Hardie, Douglas “DJ” Johnson, Austin Levingston, Kaleb Nixon - Coaches: Michael Dawes and Kelly Nixon. Finish = Gold Medal with 3-0 record.

Cheerleading: Darren Brown, Robin Bethel, Cole Morin, Kaleb Nixon, Samantha Purcell, Tori Rose, Elisa Shores, Dawn Specht, Abbey Stanley, Caitlyn Stinger, Josh Trimmer, and Jaylin Weers – Coach: Amanda Hammond. Finish = Silver Medal.

Hoop It Up – Storm Cyclone basketball team participates in its first game on March 22 during the Kansas Special Olympics Basketball Competition, held at Fort Hays State University.

With basketball season behind them, most of the Storm athletes now turn their focus to Special Olympics track and field, which is now in progress. Hammond said she looks forward to more teachable moments, as the athletes change from one sport to another. She encourages anyone who is interested in volunteering to help coach the track team to contact her at 620-793-5888. Volunteers must undergo a background check and there are some minimal Special Olympics online training programs required to complete in order to become certified to coach in the organization.

“Anyone who is at all interested in volunteering, even if they aren’t fully committed to helping this year, I encourage them to reach out to me, so that I can provide them more information,” said Hammond. “Coaching Special Olympics is a commitment and involves some work, but the joy that I’ve received since I’ve been involved for more than a decade has been so rewarding. At the end of the game or season, as long as the athletes didn’t give up and they worked through their emotions, there’s a sense of pride that they walk away with. When they have achieved that moment, those feelings are priceless, for them and for me.”


For more information, contact Amanda Hammond, Storm Team Local Program Coordinator,, 620-793-5888.

March 28, 2024
Story by: Michael Dawes, director of PR, Rosewood Services, 620-792-2536,