Maccabi Hunter Haifa players, Will Graves, John DiBartolomeo and Netanel Artzi, visited Leo-Baeck high school this morning (Thursday) to take part in the Israeli Special Olympics basketball tournament.
The Special Olympics organization was established out of the belief that people with intellectual disabilities should be able to participate in both group and individual sports — regardless of their disability — with the right guidance and support. The Israeli organization was established in 1987 and celebrated its 30th anniversary, just a month ago.
“We are one of 177 countries that belongs to the international organization, which was founded by the Kennedy family in the US, back in 1968,” said the Israeli Organization CEO, Reuven Asterhan. “Our competitive activities start with 8-year-old players, and we are very proud they are playing sports. We hold basketball tournaments throughout the year and one of the most important events is here, in Haifa. It’s an amazing event with a great tradition.”
The three Green players received a warm welcome by the athletes and fans, who were thrilled to see the players. Graves, DiBartolomeo and Artzi joined one of the teams in the tournament and played with them for one game, as the coach let all of his players play alongside the Greens.
“As part of our global activity, the Unified program is very important to us and today Maccabi Haifa players came to play with our athletes, sign autographs and take photos with them,” Asterhan said. “The program gives a lot to our athletes as well as the Haifa players. Our athletes get an opportunity to meet and play with players they see on TV and it’s very exciting to see everytime.”
Before the end of the event, Graves and DiBartolomeo took part in a 3-point shoot contest against the Leo-Baeck school kids, who volunteered to help organize the event.
“It’s a really special event, they welcomed us with open arms and I am glad we’re involved,” Maccabi guard John DiBartolomeo said. “It was very nice to see the Special Olympics athletes playing and you could tell this tournament is very important to them.”