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Special needs students share in winning season

Mar 29, 2017 11:12AM ● Published by Greg James

The Jaguars basketball team and cheerleaders shared winning experiences with special needs students. (West Jordan athletics)

By Greg James |  gregj@mycityjournals.com    

The West Jordan High School boys basketball team finished its season with an appearance in the state basketball tournament and celebrating a 14-year tradition. An Eagle Scout project is what started the project, but dedication has kept it going.

“The special needs game is one of my favorite parts of the basketball season,” Jaguar senior Connor Manglinong said. “It is fun to watch them play and getting to know everyone.”

On Feb. 18, several special needs students, the Jaguar basketball players and cheerleaders joined together for instruction and a competitive, yet fun game.

“We set up drills before they play the game,” Manglinong said. “They dribble, shoot free throws and do layups. This gets all the players warmed up before the big game. Some of them are shy at first, but when we get to know each other it becomes fun.”

With participants decked out in Jaguar black and white uniforms, the pace of play never exceeded much more than a trot.

At one point, Sam, a Jaguar team guest whose last name could not be disclosed by the students or the school, squared up about 35 feet straight-away from the hoop. He shot the ball underhanded towards the basket. As it got closer it was evident the shot was going in. When the ball went through the net the fans and team erupted.

Sam raised his hands high above his head and pumped his fists. The excitement overwhelmed his teammates and opponents. The game’s purpose became clear. The Jaguar players knew how important this game has become for the participants.

“It is fun to watch. They are all so unselfish,” Manglinong said. “The kids often help each other score, and they are all ballers.”

Head coach Scott Briggs organizes the event, and his players run the drills, referee and serve as public address announcers.

The cheerleaders and fans chant and cheer for their favorite players. The annual event has become a favorite for many of the players. It all began in 2003 as an Eagle Scout project for Jessie Josie.

The game was only one highlight of the end of the 2017 season.

The Jaguars captured fourth place in Region 3. They qualified for an appearance in the 5A state playoffs. Their first round matchup was against, Sky View, the Region 1 champion.

The Jaguars jumped out to a big lead to start the game. Sky View only managed eight points in the first quarter, where West Jordan led by 14 points. They managed to maintain that lead headed to halftime. Sky View rallied in the third quarter and cut the lead to two points, but the Jaguars didn’t succumb and held on for the 69-63 victory.

Junior Darian Nebeker led the Jaguars with 19 points

“I thought we had a great season,” Manglinong said. “Playing with this bunch of kids for as long as I  have made it even more special.”

The upset sent the Jags into the second round against Pleasant Grove. The West Jordan defense collapsed to cover the 7-foot-3 Viking center, Matt Van Komen, and he found the open shooters behind the three point line. Pleasant Grove drained 11 three-pointers in the victory.

“Making the playoffs is good for our team,” Manglinong said. “Playing in the college arenas is a cool experience.”

This was the second state tournament appearance in a row for the Jaguars.

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