Even though he’s seen it plenty times before, Greg Brittenham still marvels at the jump shot of Jake Lewis, who warms on a nearby basket on the first day of the I Did, You Can! basketball camp. Instead of holding the ball with one hand and guiding the ball into the basket with the other, Lewis holds and releases the ball with both his hands, arcing the basketball up and over the front of the rim and through the net.
“It’s a straight shot, look at that shot,” Brittenham said, brimming with excitement in between welcoming about 15 campers to the Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaat.at Kalé main gym, where for the past six years he’s offered a free, two-day basketball camp for individuals with disabilities.
The former New York Knicks strength and conditioning coach started leading basketball camps in Southeast Alaska in the 1990s and started leading the clinic as a way to reach out to those who wouldn’t fit in at a traditional basketball camp.
Brittenham got the idea for the basketball clinic upon discovering players with epilepsy were being turned away from basketball camps.
“I thought, ‘Well, geez, if that’s the case, why don’t we just have a camp and invite all these special needs (players)?’” said Brittenham, who now lives and teaches in Haines. He also puts on similar clinics in North Carolina and Colorado.
Kristina Brown, 31, has come every year to the camp and is one of the fixtures on the Juneau Rebounders, a Special Olympics team that will be going for its seventh consecutive gold medal next summer.
“This helps me train so I can do better when I do my training for Special Olympics,” Brown said during the Saturday and Sunday camp.
Tyler Anderson, 15, is a sophomore at JDHS. He got plugged into Special Olympics by participating in last year’s camp. To say he was looking forward to coming back to camp would be an understatement.
“I couldn’t wait — I just kept jumping up and down,” said Anderson, who also plays football.
Other campers in attendance, like 11-year-old Versailles Jones, practice the sport mostly own their own. Sporting a faded blue-and-orange New York Knicks jersey bearing her nickname on the back (“Super Sai”), Jones could barely contain her excitement as she walked through the doors around 9 a.m. Saturday.
“It just makes her feel so prideful,” Jones’ mother, Sabrina Moore, said.
Moore said her daughter, who was born with various anomalies and recently underwent surgery to lengthen her Achilles’ tendons, works on the camp drills long after the event.
“I will go and film her and shes watches the videos of her doing this basketball camp all year,” Moore said. “The amount of pride that she has to be able to do this and to participate with it has been really amazing.”
Mirov Menefee, 31, was another camper who could barely contain his enthusiasm as he entered the gym. Caretakers Pedro and Ligia Romero said Menefee lives with cerebral palsy and needs round-the-clock assistance. The more they can get Menefee out of the home and with others in the community, the better, Pedro Romero said.
“He participated in bowling and many activities promoted by the Special Olympics but we think in town we need more activities like this,” he said. “Especially now, winter is coming, (and) the environment makes them to be more isolated. I think this is an excellent idea.”
• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or firstname.lastname@example.org.