Co-conveners Laverne Sinden and Bill Towers might have let out a long sigh following the final whistle of the annual Tillsonburg Special Olympics Basketball Tournament Saturday at Glendale High School.
It would have been a sigh of satisfaction, pride, accomplishment, contentment and completion.
“Excellent,” said Towers, smiling, describing how he felt after co-convening the tournament for 15 consecutive years.
“It’s always good to see it come… and it’s always good to see it go,” Sinden laughed. “But it’s been a slice. Yes, it really has been great.”
“What a way to finish,” said Towers.
“What a great ending,” Sinden nodded. “Buzzer beaters, both ways,” he added, recalling Cambridge’s last second 24-22 D Rec championship win, scoring literally seconds after St. Thomas had scored to beat the final buzzer.
The D Final was almost as close – St. Thomas had led Tillsonburg by eight, then trailed Tillsonburg by eight, and eventually won it 26-24 with a basket in the final seconds.
“It’s a little bitter sweet that we know we’re done, but at the same time,” Towers smiled, “my body tells me I’ve got to be done. It was emotional.”
Sinden and Towers had announced at least two years ago that the 15th tournament would be their ‘bon voyage party’ as conveners. They can step aside knowing their replacements are set – Julie and Darcy Osipenko, who moved to Tillsonburg one-and-a-half years ago.
“We found a new couple to take over,” said Towers, “with a young fella that’s on the team.”
‘Retiring’ as conveners does not mean Towers and Sinden won’t be back – they will return to watch the tournament – and they might even be persuaded to ref one or two games – but organizational responsibilities fall to someone else.
“We’ve laid the groundwork for a great tournament to continue,” said Sinden. “And we really want it to continue. We’ve had great sponsorship, great volunteers, to bring all this together. And reality is, it’s been the same sponsorship and the same volunteers since the start. It’s been a solid group for 15 years.”
“The first two years, we must have met every week almost,” said Towers, “setting it all up. Then the next year it was a little bit less and now we do it like twice.”
“We have a couple coffee meetings,” Sinden nodded.
“A lot of behind the scenes stuff, but the meetings, we don’t need them,” said Towers. “We each had a job and got the job done.”
All of the sponsors attended the opening ceremonies in the morning and received recognition in front of the athletes.
Tillsonburg Mayor Stephen Molnar also attended opening ceremonies.
“Special Olympics Ontario is a volunteer driven organization with some 18,000 athletes and 8,000 volunteers registered across the province,” said Molnar during the opening ceremonies. “Athletes range in age from 8-80 and have the opportunity to train in 18 core sports. At the community level, the Tillsonburg District Community of Special Olympics Ontario has 40 registered athletes. Every facet of the programs from administration to coaching are run by volunteers. This annual basketball tournament today is now celebrating its 15th year – congratulations to all!”
Molnar thanked the organizers, sponsors (BNG, Scotiabank, Tillsonburg Dental Centre and Subway), the volunteers, coaches, referees, participants and fans.
“A special thanks is also extended to all local organizations (fire, police and others) who continue to support Tillsonburg athletes on a regular basis at games and practices throughout the year in various sporting activities. To the athletes… thank you for your passion and for demonstrating to all the positive values of team work through sport – you are truly an inspiration to us all!”
Sinden and Towers convened Tillsonburg’s first Special Olympics tournament in 2006.
“Fifteen years ago we got a phone call to say ‘would you run a tournament?’” Sinden recalled. “Said ‘yes.’ Then it was, ‘would you run a tournament if we didn’t get you any help?’ Said ‘yes.’ And here we are 15 years later.”
“We produced a well-oiled machine,” said Towers.
“Oh, it really is,” Sinden agreed, noting many of the same teams return year after year.
“We kept the calibre the same. The first couple of years we had some out-of-town teams, like Brantford and Oakville and Mississauga, and they were really out of our calibre. Now, the last…”
“Ten years,” Towers nodded.
“We’ve had just a solid group, the same teams coming back,” said Sinden. “The competition level was pretty equal, so it was good.”
There really isn’t any home court advantage at Glendale HS – Tillsonburg has won its division in past years – but it is rare.
“From a competition standpoint,” said Towers, “we’ve had a lot of years where the last game has been close.”
“It was important for us… one, that it was fun, first and foremost,” said Sinden. “And that everyone went home with something. So the (tournament) shirts were our big thing. The medals, yes, but everybody looks forward to the shirts.
“One of the supporters that’s always helped us was Union Sports out of St. Thomas. They always give us a great deal. This year, going out, we got the special tie-dye ones. So we spent a little bit more money this year, but we just had a blast with it.
“Overall, it’s the sportsmanship,” said Sinden, noting what he will remember most about the tournament. “The sportsmanship and the camaraderie between the athletes.”