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Photo: N/A, License: N/A, Created: 2014:03:19 19:36:36

Front: Tyler Olivieri. From left, back: Justin McDonnell, Randilyn Crane and John Soucek.

Old Forge Elementary student Justin McDonnell loves sports, especially basketball.

“He plays baseball, he plays soccer,” said Justin’s mom, Anne. “We wanted a way to allow our son, who has Down Syndrome to interact with other special needs students in an environment that made them feel like champions.”

So Anne and her husband Rob, with the help of family, friends and the school have organized the inaugural Old Forge Challenger Basketball game for this Sunday, March 30.

The event is open to any special needs student throughout Lackawanna and Luzerne counties in grades three through six.

“There’s no experience necessary,” she said. “To get these children together is important. Having a disability doesn’t mean these children aren’t able to be social and play sports.”

McDonnell said the response has been heartwarming.

“I had a mother call whose son attends the Pittston area School District,” she said. “That mother shared the joy her son felt when he learned he would finally have a chance to play in a game.”

In addition to the game, McDonnell shared that the Penn State Lion and Old Forge Blue Devil Mascot will also be making an appearance.

“There’s no registration fee and all participants will receive a medals,” she added. “There’s no challenger basketball in Lackawanna or Luzerne counties, this is the first and although we’re starting out small, we’re starting out and that says something.”

There will be food and other refreshments for sale and basket raffles. Any donations collected will benefit the Life Skills class at the Old Forge School District.

McDonnell hopes that the Triboro community will make it a point to stop over during the game, which starts at 2 p.m. to cheer on the participants.

“Admission is free,” she said. “The day is about the kids and we hope we can get a crowd to come out and show these young athletes what it’s like to have a large group cheering them on.”

For more information about Sunday’s event, call McDonnell at 570-451-1331, or email