The Sensational Seven

From the outside looking in, one might be apt to give a good 'ole southern "bless their hearts" to the All Abilities basketball team of Texarkana, Arkansas. After all, the team consists of seven young men who have been labeled cognitively and physically impaired for their entire lives.  Although the inconspicuous group lives under the watch care of local organizations like Opportunities and Haven Home, they are remarkably independent. They have their own housing, go to their jobs daily, and make all their own decisions with the help of life coaches. These guys have, for the most part, gone unseen and unheard for as long as they can remember. That is until a few hometown volunteers decided to take the world's perception of the "disabled" and flip it on its end through a game called basketball.

Whitni Allen, owner of Texarkana's Heat It Up, was busy raising kids and growing her business when, earlier this year, Jennifer Lewis, CEO of Texarkana Resources, stopped by to pick up one of the many healthy meals that Heat It Up provides.  Jennifer began to talk to Whitni about her work with people with disabilities. Immediately, Whitney knew she had to help.  She had loved basketball in high school and wanted to give these guys the same experience of excitement and competition that the game had brought to her.   So, Whitni reached out to Texarkana Resources and Opportunities, organizations that work with disabled people in our area, and a 7-man team was gathered. With the team assembled and an extreme sense of eagerness, all they needed was a coach.  Fortunately, Whitni knew a guy.

 Jason Boston has coached at several local schools and has made quite an impression on many students in Texarkana and surrounding towns.  The guy was born to coach.  His dad was a basketball coach, his brother is a basketball coach, and he is the happiest on a gym floor teaching kids how to dribble, shoot, and pass. Jason lives and breathes the game of basketball so much that he has made it his life's mission to re-infuse that love into a very football-minded part of the world. To proceed with that mission, he founded  Buckets with Boston, a basketball training program that shows kids how to handle the ball and learn the game using correct form and technique.  Through Buckets with Boston, Jason happened to be training Whitni Allen's daughter.

In addition, Whitni was once a member of the Texas High Girls' basketball team, which was coached by the one and only Jason Boston. Naturally, for the All Abilities team, Whitney knew Coach Boston would be a perfect fit. She was right.

All Abilities now had a team and a coach.  The only problem was all of this had been organized so quickly that there was no time to practice before the first game in Foreman, AR. The guys had yet to meet their new coach. Opportunities bussed the team to the gym in Foreman, and Coach Boston showed up separately.  The team immediately accepted Jason Boston as their leader. "There were no judgments on their part. They focused.  They didn't argue with me or have bad attitudes.  They just played with everything they had," said the coach. Boston encouraged his team in dribbling and shooting.  He coached them on rebounding both offensively and defensively. "They did exactly what I told them to do and were happy to do it," the coach proudly said.  "These guys played their hearts out, and I knew we had something special going on." The brand new team managed to win their first game that day but lost the second game as they made the tying basket right after the buzzer sounded.  It didn't matter though. The bar was set, and the team was thrilled!

Running with the momentum from the win in Foreman, practices began for the All Abilities Basketball team. Most athletes will admit they hate the practices and training, but not the Sensational Seven. They loved their strength training regimen with Coach Whitni twice a week. Whitni says she designed the exercises to enhance the team's daily life skills while fostering socialization through teamwork and competition. The guys also reveled in their basketball practices at the Texarkana Boys and Girls Club.  Of course, their willingness to put in the work was much welcomed by their coaches. Coach Boston said that lots of people would doubt the need for practice with this group because who was to know if the drills and plays would cement with these guys. It turns out that when you love the game of basketball as much as these guys do, their focus is sharp, and their memories of what was learned are even sharper. "It was simply amazing," Jason Boston said with a smile. The team members gave all they had at the only two practices they had because they had one goal in mind—the Special Olympics Arkansas Tournament of Champions.

Of course, word gets around pretty fast in these parts, with or without social media. Total Medical Supply of Texarkana heard about the All Abilities basketball team and their quest for the Arkansas Championship.  They were so impressed that they sponsored the guys and bought them uniforms to wear proudly at the state tourney. Due to the local support of their hard work and dedication, the All Abilities Team was hyped as they headed to Benton, Arkansas, to compete for the championship.

Once arriving in Benton on March 14, they discovered 47 other teams had entered the state tournament.  Not letting intimidation ever be a factor, the team easily won their first divisional game that day.  The win set them up for bracket play the next day.  After that first game, the team and their coaches went out to eat and celebrated a team member's birthday with a special dessert while the whole restaurant joined in to sing the happy birthday song.  After that, they went to the opening ceremony that the Special Olympic Committee had coordinated, followed by a dance. The Texarkana team had a great time dancing the night away.  Coach Boston and Allen both laugh and agree that the Sensational Seven pour as much effort into dancing as they do into basketball.  Dancing is an expression of happiness for them, no matter who is watching.

Bracket play in the Special Olympics Tournament of Champions began, and Texarkana's team was on fire! They dribbled, passed, shot, and rebounded the ball just like their coaches had shown them in practice. Coach Boston said that Eddie Webb made attempts at 3-pointers from crazy places on the court that even Steph Curry would have been impressed by. The tallest baller on the team, Jamell Foate, quickly drew plays with his finger on the gym floor when time was called while all his teammates shook their heads in agreement about what had to happen next. The coaches admit they still have no idea what kind of plays Jamell was drawing or what kind of basketball voodoo the guys were consenting to, but it worked. The Texarkana All Abilities Basketball Team won third place in the Special Olympics Tournament of Champions!


On Friday, April 12, the Sensational Seven and their coaches, local sponsors, and family members met at the We Are Washington Community Development Center (formerly Booker T. Washington High School) to celebrate their win. Again, excitement was in the air as Total Medical Supply provided pizza and cupcakes for the team.

The Sensational Seven also received individual awards made possible by TMS.

  • Dynamic Dribbler—Wesley Canipe
  • Loud and Proud—Jonathan Richards
  • Intense Defense—Cory Gray
  • Awesome Offense—Ron Seay
  • Super Celebrations—Eddie Webb
  • Rough & Tough Rebounder—Jamell Foate
  • Hurricane Hustler—Cory Williams

To add to their evening, Total Medical Supply bought each team member brand-new Nike basketball shoes.  The guys were on top of the world, and it was an unforgettable sight to see!

Of course, the All Abilities basketball team made lasting memories of a bronze medal win in the Tournament Champions, and that is what they will keep with them forever, but it's the coaches, helpers, and sponsors who learned the real lessons. Whitni Allen said, "I went into this just wanting these guys to have their own space and their own moment in time, but they brought the joy of basketball back to me." When Jason Boston spoke at the awards ceremony, he said, "I had several coaches come up to me during the tournament and tell me how much they enjoyed watching my team play. That's a big compliment, but this is not my team.  This is our team.  I'm a coach and a friend to all of you guys." 

As I looked around that old Booker T. Washington cafeteria where the ceremony was being held that night, it was probably the closest to heaven on earth I'd ever experienced. There were no haughty judgments.  There was no difference in skin color. There were no opposing political opinions. There were no contrasting social classes. There was just joy in its purest form. Seven guys, whom the world considers "different," were reaping their well-deserved benefits.  

On that night, I gained a ton of perspective that I too need to apply to my own life. It occurred to me that these young men never wake up in bad moods or worry about tomorrow. They are rock stars when it comes to living in the moment and expressing their happiness no matter what anybody else thinks. Before leaving the awe-inspiring scene, I heard Texarkana's All Abilities Basketball Team recite the Special Olympics athlete oath aloud- "Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt." Despite how they may be perceived by the world, the Sensational Seven actually seem to have quite the advantage. Bless our hearts for not following their example.

Texarkana All Abilities Basketball would like to recognize Felisha Johnson and Travon May for their unwavering support of the team. Thank you to Arca Continental Coca-Cola Southwest Beverages for donating the "swag bags."  Also, a big shout out to Madeline Haak, Jasmine Bruce, Reggie Myrks, Megan Palowski, and Total Medical Supply for all your generous contributions.


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