CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- "I want you to go harder this time," Coach Tim Haley screamed to his basketball players as they ran back and forth across the Bobcats practice court at Time Warner Arena.
"It's 4th quarter. This is where we beat the other team. Who’s in better shape?" he yelled.
His ten guys, the Mecklenburg County Patriots, will travel to Nebraska this weekend for a national tournament they earned a spot in by winning a state tournament in North Carolina. This practice at Time Warner Arena is a gift of sorts from the Bobcats organization to wish them luck
And, oh, by the way, those ten athletes are Special Olympians.
The Patriots team is made up of athletes with disabilities, ages 19 to 45. They will leave Friday morning for a send-off with Gov. Bev Perdue, followed by a night at North Carolina State University, where they'll join 40 other Special Olympic athletes who'll also represent North Carolina in Nebraska.
The tournament will be held in Lincoln--the second of its kind for Special Olympics.
"We're going to be pretty good, I think," athlete Ted Hula said. "We just have to play one game at a time."
"The team is going to do awesome," athlete Sam Reid, Jr. said. "They are good basketball players."
His mom Ida said Sam, Jr. has won more medals at Special Olympics than she can count. "It has afford him an identity," she said. "It just boosted his self-esteem and I think it made him feel that he is an important person. It's been wonderful for him, and he is wonderful as a result of it."
The practice on the Bobcats practice court comes along with a gift: The Bobcats organization contributed $8,000 to the team to help them fund the trip.
"When they said they needed some help with fundraising, we said, 'That’s taken care of. Come on out, and use our practice facility before you head out to Lincoln, Nebraska,'" Michael Thompson, director of Corporate Communications for the Bobcats said. "This is the same court that Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson and the rest of those guys play on. This is where Coach Brown coaches everyday, so we thought it was more than fitting that they should come out here and practice as well."
Matthews' own Brooklyn Decker will meet the team in Nebraska where she will be a co-emcee for the national event.