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More than 300 athletes with intellectual disabilities competed in the Special Olympics Florida Area 11 basketball games Saturday. NBC 6's Laura Rodriguez has the story.
More than 300 athletes with intellectual disabilities competed in the Special Olympics Florida Area 11 basketball games Saturday.
The University of Miami hosted the participants who played for a chance to make it to the state competition.
"[My daughter] likes to be part of a team and be part of an event, be part of society and just be one like everybody else," said Dania Fernandez, parent of a Special Olympic athlete.
Coaches and parents cheered on the athletes as they dribbled away and made game-winning shots.
"They work hard for what they do, and watching her today compete in that tie-breaker at the end -- there was a lot of emotion on both sides of the court," said parent Roberto Fernandez.
Many teams participated from across Miami-Dade County, and for the first time this year the University of Miami had a unified team playing in the Special Olympic games.
"Unified teams are comprised of athletes with or without intellectual disabilities. The mission of unified sports is to teach acceptance on the court and on the field," said Linsey Harris Smith, Director of Special Olympics FL Miami-Dade.
The Miami Heat's mascot made a special appearance at this basketball game. Burnie did some tricks and watched as the athletes showed off their skills, team spirit and camaraderie.
"We have to teach competition so when they move on to something else in life, they know they have to do the best they can," said Gloria Oyarzun, a coach at the World of Wellness Center.
Many of the Special Olympic athletes train year round for this competition and work hard for that award ribbon given to them on their very own champion's podium.
"When she stands on that podium, whether she's on the bottom or on the top level it doesn't matter. It's the smile that she gives to the world that says, you know what I did it," Fernandez said.