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By A.J. JANKOWSKI
Daily News Sports Editor
A word of advice if you ever ask about the Special Olympics to more than one member of the Ketchikan High School girls basketball team at once: Be ready.
Be ready for multiple answers. Be ready for those answers to fly out quickly — usually at the exact same time. But most of all, be ready to hear a gusto, and a youthful enthusiasm that can’t help but put a smile on your face.
Six months after the Lady Kings volunteered at the Special Olympics Alaska Summer Games in Anchorage, seniors Mikayla Brown-Harrison, Lizzie Carson, and Bayley Lindgren slumped against the wall facing the doors to the Clarke Cochrane Gymnasium.
It was 5:30 p.m. on the last Thursday of November. The basketball season started three days prior, and the trio — along with the rest of the Lady Kings — were winded from a particularly grueling end of practice.
With the Meet the Kings scrimmage Saturday and the first game of the season Dec. 14, all focus was on getting back in basketball shape.
But the fervor with which the trio spoke about that mid-June Saturday afternoon at East Anchorage High School would have you believe the group just returned from the airport.
Suddenly the three were no longer slumped against the wall. They bolted upright; took a synchronized breath, and let the waterfall of exuberance cascade.
"It was so much fun because I’d done—"
"It was really positive, and really—"
"I was pretty nervous, but I think—"
"—we were all pretty excited."
"—relaxed. You felt really comfortable while you were there."
"—volunteer work before, but not with the Special Olympics."
Please, one at a time. Mikayla, what’s one thing you took away from that day?
"Even though they were competing, they were supporting each other so much,"?Brown-Harrison said. "The entire gym was support—"
"They were good role models to each other," Lindgren cut in.
"They were so excited for everyone else," Carson said.
It’s an energy that head coach Kelly Smith knows all too well.
Smith has spent enough time with his players to know how much enthusiasm they have. It was part of the reason why he knew the added event to a 10-day journey north for basketball camps and tournaments would pay off as well as it did.
"These girls, they get excited about anything we do,"?Smith said. "They enjoyed it, and lived in the moment. But then again, they do that when we're standing in line at Taco Bell."
The Lady Kings spent the day coaching drills, and helping the Olympians find their way to each exercise.
"It was so nice to see their enthusiasm," Lindgren said. "Like when someone made a shot, and they smile at you and give you a high five. It just made you feel so happy."
Smith said the girls’ energy nearly got too high on several occasions.
"The girls almost got disqualified a couple times because they got too excited, and kept getting in the way of the shooters," he said.
For the Lady Kings, it was a chance to wear the other shoe for a couple of hours — to coach instead of being coached.
However, with just one minor difference.
"They were probably a lot more fun to coach than we are,"?Brown-Harrison said. "They were so excited, and that's what made it so fun."
Assisting at the Special Olympics was not on the itinerary when the team first arrived in Anchorage, Smith said. But after bumping into an acquaintance who helped run the event, the Kayhi coach volunteered his 15 players.
Smith said the Special Olympics helped "keep basketball in perspective.
"They were doing minor shooting drills from two feet out, and that's something that we take for granted every day," he said. "That was so exciting to the members of the Special Olympics. It's a good experience for these girls to get to do this type of stuff."
It’s an experience that will follow Kayhi onto the court this season.
"We need to bring that enthusiasm,"?Lindgren said, "and be excited to play every day — just like they were, for the few hours that they did."
So the next time you see the Lady Kings, ask them about their trip to Anchorage. Ask them about the Special Olympics; how they hung out with the athletes afterward, and how the smile on an athlete’s face quickly put one on theirs.
But be ready for all the answers. Be ready for those answers to come fast, and from no less than three mouths at once.
And be ready to smile.
"(The athletes) were just so excited to be there. That was the best part,"?Brown-Harrison said. "They wanted to be there more than anywhere else in the world, and that made us want to be there with them."