'That was pretty amazing': Special Olympics tournament draws communities together
Sharon Freitag has sung the national anthem at sporting events before, but never at an event quite like the basketball tournament held Sunday, Jan. 26, at the Baldwin-Woodville High School.
Freitag sang for the opening ceremonies of the first-ever Red Cedar Invitational Special Olympics Basketball game.
"It was an honor," Freitag said. "I sing for other special events but this is really close to my heart because it's the kids that I work with."
Freitag is a special education teacher for St. Croix Central High School. Two of her current students and a former student, who has since graduated, are members of the Red Cedar Lightning Special Olympics basketball team.
"This is just so rewarding for them," Freitag said, "and for everybody involved."
Freitag said having something like basketball is very important for people with special needs because it makes them feel like everyone else.
The Red Cedar invitational ran much like any other basketball tournament. The teams played hard, the crowds cheered, and the Baldwin-Woodville varsity cheerleading squad led cheers.
Roxy Wakeen, who organized the event, said the support meant a lot to the Red Cedar Special Olympians, who have never had cheerleaders at one of their games before.
"It was so cute, because many of the athletes wanted pictures with the cheerleaders," Wakeen said.
Of the approximately 400 people that attended the event, Wakeen estimates 200 were spectators. The rest were athletes and volunteers.
"For a first year, I think that was pretty amazing," Wakeen said.
In addition to the three Red Cedar teams, three teams from Polk County, one team from Barron County, two teams from Adams-Friendship and one team from Chequamegon took part in the tournament.
Wakeen's son Joey is a member of the Red Cedar Lightning team. Joey, 16, attends St. Croix Central High School. Wakeen said Joey deeply enjoyed the tournament.
"He couldn't sleep last night. He kept talking in his sleep even," Wakeen said.
In addition to the Baldwin-Woodville cheerleaders, student athletes from Baldwin-Woodville and St. Croix Central high schools, staff from both schools and community volunteers worked on the event.
"It's so gratifying seeing the community come together," said Wakeen, "and do something for others."
The Red Cedar group is based in Menomonie. Wakeen said she wanted to hold the tournament closer to home so friends and family of local athletes could attend the game.
Wakeen said the tournament will return next year.