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Hoops program a slam dunk for me and my buddy


January 24, 2011|STACY CASE


When it comes to Sunday mornings, Jason Schepps looks forward to waking up early. He puts on his uniform, does a few jumping jacks and heads to the basketball court.

“My favorite part about playing basketball is just running around,” Schepps said.

For the past few years, participating in the Parkland Buddy Sports programs has been the norm for Schepps, who was diagnosed with Autism.

It sure didn’t stop him from taking center court when the basketball program started earlier this month. “It’s just a lot of fun,” said Schepps, 14, of Coral Springs. “I like to play basketball and I like to have help.”

His reference of help is based on the program’s main function. Parkland Buddy Sports allows kids who suffer from mental and/or physical disabilities the same opportunity to play sports as mainstream children. They are accompanied by a buddy onto the playing field/court and they participate in a safe, enjoyable sports environment.

“We want to fill their weekend with something healthy,” said Andy Zaukas, who is in charge of the Parkland Buddy Sports’ basketball program. “It’s about total encouragement and the interfacing between the buddies and the players.” Zaukas also believes “it’s the highlight of their week” for both buddy and player.

Someone who can relate is Jason’s sister, Sammy. “It’s such a good thing to help out the kids. It really makes me feel good,” said Sammy, 17, who has offered her buddying skills for about a year. “I understand disabilities pretty well and their capabilities.”

Sammy, like the other 70 buddies, gets to Terramar Park in Parkland on Sunday mornings to greet the players and their families. Games ensue on the park’s five basketball courts in a 7-on-7 fashion with accompanying buddies.

While there is some difficulty trying to fit 28 people on the basketball courts, the Parkland Buddies program pulls it off with style.

“There is so much camaraderie out there and it’s the most humbling thing you could do,” Zaukas said.

The basketball program this year includes 46 players on eight teams. Players range from ages 5-24, spanning various disabilities, in which there are no requirements for them to participate. However, for buddies, their only requirement is to simply be there for the players.

“I really don’t know who enjoys it more; the buddies, the players or their families,” Zaukas said. Each buddy is assigned to a player. Sometimes, players are very timid and reserved and will only come out of their shell if their special buddy is by their side.

“It’s very emotional for me because it’s something I’m used to living with,” Sammy said. “Basketball is probably my favorite sport to do.”

To see their face after they make a basket is something Sammy says is priceless.

“It’s not only something that makes their day so much, but it also lets them know that they have another friend,” Sammy concluded.

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