Every kid's a winner in Children's Adaptive Team Sports

A C.A.T.S. volunteer lifts an athlete to make a basket at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. (WJLA photo)

WASHINGTON (WJLA) – Before the Washington Wizards took to the court on a recent Saturday, there was a different type of action taking place at the Verizon Center—a special basketball clinic. The athletes all have developmental disabilities and are part of a league called Children’s Adaptive Team Sports—C.A.T.S. for short.

Virginia mom Margarita Benavides started the league. Her daughter, who doesn’t have a disability, plays club basketball. But she says it wasn’t always so easy for her cousin, who does have special needs. C.A.T.S. fills that void by ensuring that each child experiences success.

Benavides said, "We make sure that whatever accommodations we have to make so they're able to make a basket, score a goal or a touchdown, that we make that happen, because that’s really the main thing, that they have fun.”

That includes a lot of high fives, cheers, and even a lift-up.

Ashley Harless has been volunteering with C.A.T.S. from day one. It takes a lot of patience, but she says it’s worth it.

Harless explained, “It’s not hard to find the patience when you see how much fun they have.”

The younger teen “buddies” agree.

“I think it’s just special for the kids. It makes their day better, helps them [and] it’s fun for me, too,” high school student Liam Orr said.

Fellow student volunteer Jake Mazzoccoli added, “You can see improvement, even over a short period of time, and it's just cool to watch and know you helped them."

Parents appreciate the down time and emphasize the other benefits of the program for their children. Dwayne Brodie’s son participates in the program.

“I’ve seen him grow in terms of maturity, being able to regulate himself,” he said.

For Benavides, it’s a labor of love.

“There’s so much fulfillment and joy I get from it every single week. It’s really a dream come true,” she said.

Roughly 100 children participate in each of the year-round sessions held in Manassas and Reston. Benavides hopes to bring the league to Maryland and D.C.

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