NORTH SMITHFIELD – A team comprised of basketball players from North Smithfield and Burrillville, along with several neighboring communities, is headed to the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games in Orlando, Fl. to represent Team Rhode Island on a national stage.
The undefeated Rhody Rangers, traditional basketball Team 1, led by Coach Rick LaBreche, will travel for the games, featuring more than 4,000 athletes, 10,000 volunteers, 1,500 coaches and 125,000 fans from all 50 states and the District of Columbia from June 5-11.
The team includes ten players from communities across Rhode Island, including Brady Pendergast and Cole Stevenich of North Smithfield, and Michael Coyne of Harrisville.
“We have a very good basketball team,” said LaBreche. “This one team plays extremely well together.”
“We were fortunate enough to be chosen to represent the state, which is a huge honor,” LaBreche said.
Coyne, who runs Red, White & Brew Coffeehouse in North Smithfield, said he’s “excited and nervous,” for the trip.
“I haven’t flown that far in a long time,” Coyne told NRI NOW this week.
It will also be a first for the coach, who submitted the team stats to the national organization for potential inclusion in the games. Only one team from each state selected for the games, which take place every four years, and the players were chosen from a basketball league with 20 basketball teams after winning all seven of their games in 2021.
“It’s a pretty big basketball program,” LaBreche said.
The group will be joined in Orlando by one additional athlete, competing in track & field, and Michael Capuano, serving as assistant coach.
“Through their hard work and determination, this team took home the gold medal in their last competition,” noted Special Olympics Rhode Island in announcing the news. “We are so proud of their accomplishments and sportsmanship to lead the team forward.”
Coyne also participates in golf, bowling, and track & field through SORI, and said he’s good at basketball, “if I put my mind to it.”
“We don’t care if we win or lose. We just want to have fun,” Coyne said of his team. “We’re just all goofballs.”
“I’m looking forward to hanging out with my teammates,” he added.
He’ll be one of many athletes to stick around after the games for a family visit to Walt Disney World.
The trip will provide a rare and exciting experience for the local group through an international organization dedicated to empowering individuals with intellectual disabilities to become physically fit, productive and respected members of society through sports training and competition. The games aim to promote the ideals of acceptance and inclusion through sport, and showcase the athleticism and abilities of participants.
For the past seven years, LeBreche, a firefighter in Woonsocket and dedicated volunteer, has helped to raise funds for SORI through the Super Plunge. The fundraiser has participants jump into freezing December waters at Salty Brine Beach every hour for 24 hours to raise awareness and money for the program.
And while all agree that it’s not just about winning, the coach said Team Rhode Island stands a great chance of shining at the games.
“Can they come back with a gold? They absolutely can,” LeBreche said. “They’re going to practice hard, they’re going to play hard, but most of all, they’re going to have fun.”
“This is an incredible opportunity for these athletes,” he added. “Representing the state of Rhode Island in the U.S. games is going to be something they remember for the rest of their lives. As a coach, I’m honored, I’m thrilled.”