March is always an exciting time for basketball players and fans. It starts with the IHSA Girls and Boys basketball state series, followed by the beginning of March Madness in collegiate basketball giving every team a chance to punch their tickets to the big dance. However, another basketball team in the state of Illinois has been making a lot of noise this time of year in recent seasons. The Synergy Jr. Bulls, a Synergy Adaptive Athletic team out of the wheelchair basketball division, won their 12th IHSA State championship earlier this month. This Feature Story is sponsored by Edward-Elmhurst Health.
“It’s all about the kids. Last year was the first year they won it for several years, so they got it in overtime and this year four of my guys were able to get the repeat along with three new kids on the team. So it was a great experience for them as well,” said head Coach Curtis Lease
“They showed that they’re athletes. They’re not disabled athletes but they’re athletes that have a disability so they’re out there working hard,” added Lease.
A dominating performance
That hard work has paid off, resulting in the 12th state title for the program out of the Western DuPage Special Recreation Association. The victory over the Hawks of the Lincoln-Way Special Recreation Association made it to back-to-back State titles for the Jr. Bulls. The team went 4-0 in the State series this winter, capped off by the State championship win at the University of Illinois on March 11th.
“It was a great win because it was kind of like an underdog story too because we weren’t supposed to win. I feel like we proved a lot by working hard. We executed what we worked on and it was a great accomplishment,” said Jr. Bulls Player Drew Beutel.
“I was excited about beating them because we haven’t been able to in a few years,” said team member John Parris.
“We were up by a lot. I was really excited and I wanted to keep my emotion but I felt like we worked really hard for this and we deserved to win because this whole year we were working our butts off for that one win,” said Nellie Meinhardt.
Local athletes involved
The five primary sports offered through Synergy athletics include archery, boccia, rock climbing, bowling, and wheelchair basketball. The program features athletes from all over the Chicagoland area. One of the team members is Drew Beutel, a student at Neuqua Valley High School. He’s not the only Beutel involved with the team, but his dad John also helps coach the team and looks at the sport as a fun and friendly competition.
“It’s an interesting sport because even though on the court we may be competing against other teams from the area we do become friends off the court. It’s a bittersweet rivalry that we have with many of the local wheelchair basketball teams. For the team especially with the two seniors Matthew and Jeffrey that we have I couldn’t be happier,” said assistant coach John Beutel.
The team is not quite done yet. The group now has the privilege of competing at Nationals in Wichita, Kansas. The end-of-the-year tournament will feature teams from all over the country.
“It’ll be a great learning experience for the kids on some of these teams that we don’t know what to expect. Are they fast? Are they good outside shooters, do they know the fundamentals of basketball and just to see how the kids are going to be able to react,” said John Beutel.
No matter how far the team is able to advance at Nationals, the Jr. Bulls State championship run has already cemented an unforgettable year for this group of athletes.