A boys basketball team composed of special needs students from Southside Occupational Academy and De La Salle won the 2023 IHSA state championship. Photo by Mike Walsh

A boys basketball team composed of special needs students from Southside Occupational Academy and De La Salle won the 2023 IHSA state championship. Photo by Mike Walsh

Special needs hoops team from Chicago wins Unified Sports state title

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By Mike Walsh
Correspondent

If Tom White had his choice, getting doused with cold water on a 35-degree morning in mid-March in Champaign would likely not be high on his list of things to do.

Considering the context of the soaking, however, White was more than happy with everything that took place.

Coaching a team consisting of special needs students from Southside Occupational Academy in Chicago and De La Salle, White guided the Meteors to the IHSA Unified Sports boys basketball state championship, held at the Activities & Recreation Center at the University of Illinois.

In the title game, the Meteors defeated East Saint Louis 63-32. They beat Limestone the day before in the semifinals.

“It was cold,” White said. “But it was good. That’s only happened a few times in my life. I think the kids had more fun than I did.

“The best things in life are the things that you don’t expect and that go well. Their intensity and love for the sport was so true and that wiped me away.”

White, who is the athletic director at De La Salle, spent 26 years as the Meteors boys basketball coach, winning more than 400 career games. He grew up in Chicago’s West Lawn neighborhood and lives in Garfield Ridge.

Earning a state championship in his first season coaching the Unified Sports team was memorable, but there was another reason why White was eager to accept the job.

“It was humbling to win this,” he said. “I only considered this because of my nephew, Mikey, who was a Special Olympian and passed away a few years ago.

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Tom White, who coaches the Unified Sports special needs team from De La Salle and Southside Occupational Academy, places the team’s name on the championship branch of the IHSA state finals bracket. Photo by Mike Walsh

“So when this opportunity came along, I was like why not? I’m on the back nine of my life and all I want to do are things that are important to me. I don’t take anything for granted. I see people my age passing away and this is something I wanted to try, and I truly enjoyed it.”

Representing De La Salle were Dylan Clark, David Coffey, Chris Cole, Arturo Garcia, Kaleb Navarro, Scott Phillips, Mario Ramirez and Timmy Schergen. White was aided by longtime De La Salle boys assistant basketball coach John Brogan.

The Special Olympians from Southside Occupational Academy were Trevon Darden, Brandon Dorsey, Matt Furdge, Cesar Galindo, Dayquon Haywood and Marcus Holmes.

Following their victory over the Flyers in the state final, the Meteors were presented a plaque along with medallions from the IHSA. White received another plaudit, as he was chosen the 2023 Unified Sports Basketball Coach of the Year by the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association. He will receive his honor on May 6 at the IBCA banquet at Illinois State University’s Redbird Arena.

“This was unbelievable,” White said. “People sent me pictures from our games and you can see that I really enjoyed it. I have much respect for these kids for everything they do.

“They now have many new friends from our school and community.”

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