By Larry Moko
An enthusiastic entry from Bishop Tonnos Catholic Secondary School will be in Toronto next week competing against teams from around the world in 3-on-3 basketball.
The event – for student/athletes aged 13-21 – is part of the inaugural Special Olympics Ontario Invitational Youth Games.
From May 14-17 over 2,000 athletes and 500 coaches are scheduled to be based at the University of Toronto residences and take part in a total of five sports (athletics, bocce, basketball, floor hockey and soccer).
It’s in celebration of the 50thanniversary of the Special Olympics movement.
Tonnos is in a unified division – teams made up of athletes both with and without intellectual disability. Other divisions are more traditional (teams made up entirely of athletes with an intellectual disability).
“It’s very exciting,” Antonio Fricano of the Tonnos Titans basketball delegation said of the world championships.
A Grade 12 student, Fricano’s teammates include his younger brother Nicolas, Daniel Silva, Nicholas Wunsche, Katie Files and Adrien Giardino. Files and Giardino each are unified ‘captains’ on the two lines.
“It’s a team of six, and three go on the court at a time,” said Giardino. “There’s a unified member on the opposite team, too.”
The Titans earned their berth with a Special Olympics victory at the regional qualifying event in November.
“We did lots of stealing and shooting to score baskets,” Fricano recalled about Tonnos’s regional championship. And we guarded lots of players. It was fun.”
Fricano has been active in other sports at the high school level, qualifying for the OFSAA cross-country championships and winning a silver medal in the 50-metre backstroke (44.05 seconds) at the 2019 OFSAA swimming championships.
“I was surprised,” he said of that result.
Nicolas Fricano, who is in Grade 9, also swims, runs cross-country and competes in track.
“I went to elementary school with the two Fricano brothers,” Giardino said. “Antonio and I were on the basketball team.”
Files, too, gives the Special Olympics team her thumbs up.
“From a young age,” she said, “I have had a close relationship with my cousin Robert who has autism. Spending time with him has brought me so much happiness and joy. Because of the special bond we have, it led me to join best buddies and Special Olympics teams at school. I love being able to play the sports we love with these students. I can’t wait to go to Toronto, spend time, and hopefully win a medal.
“We have created life-long friendships. Next week I hope to bring them some of the joy they have brought to me.”
Silva is in Grade 10 and Wunsche is a Grade 9 student.
According to Linda Battilana, who is a math teacher and a Special Olympics coach at Tonnos, 60 basketball teams will be vying for top honours in Toronto.
“The first day will just be preliminary, figuring out what level the teams are at,” she said. “There’s such varying levels. The second days we start into playdowns.”
Opening ceremonies are Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.