Puyallup may have defeated Rogers 26-21 in a matchup between Special Olympics basketball teams last Thursday night, but the final score wasn’t the focus of the evening.
Nearly 900 fans attended the annual “Pack the Gym” game between rival schools.
Ben Rippi, who has coached Rogers teams from 2010-12, credited Puyallup’s John Anderson for putting together an extravaganza that featured a boisterous student section, band and cheerleaders to enhance the experience of the game for the players.
“It is just getting bigger and bigger every year, and that is because of John,” Rippi said. “Shining the light on these players like they are movie stars is great. The best part about it is the looks on the players’ faces when they make a shot.”
Puyallup senior Jacob Howard, a self-proclaimed basketball enthusiast, didn’t hesitate to don a coaching hat for the first time for the Vikings’ squad.
“Choosing to volunteer with the Special Olympics basketball is probably one of the best decisions of my life,” Howard said. “These players always have a smile on their face, no matter what, and are so positive.”
Clayton Sparks of Puyallup doesn’t miss out on an opportunity to watch his two grandsons in action. One of them, Adam Galen, played for the Vikings, and Devin Carriveau was a peer partner on the court. Carriveau runs the 110-meter hurdles for the track team.
“This game is about the players having a good time,” Sparks said at halftime. “I hope every one of them scores a basket.”
Anderson, who has been one of the most instrumental individuals involved with “Pack the Gym” festivities, said the event went according to plan. The main event was played after a junior high school Special Olympics game.
“It was great to see all of the kids from both the junior high and high schools get to experience a night like this,” Anderson said. “We wanted to make it really fun for them. It’s all about the kids.”