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Gisborne's first Special Olympics basketball team

For Leityn Swann, basketball is more than a sport, it's a lifetime passion.

Swann played for Lytton High School team Ritana and Gisborne's representative Division 2 team the Rising Suns.

“Representing Gisborne was a big thing for me, so to be able to give back means a lot,” Swann said.

With more than 20 years' experience working with whaikaha (people with disabilities) he saw a chance to merge two of his passions.

Gisborne's first Special Olympics basketball team will compete in the National Māori Basketball Tournament in January, “so people with an intellectual disability, a physical disability or both can play in that grade”, Swann said.

Mark Dekker is a member of the team. He is known by his Facebook followers as Mahiman, and works to bring awareness to the disabled community.

Mahiman's advice for other whaikaha whanau when it comes to playing sport is: “Go for it, kia kaha (be strong) and hang in there. Do the mahi (work) and get the treats.”

Henry Lamont is one of the team's biggest supporters. He works at Turanga Health and helps those with disabilities to socialise and get life skills.

His 15-year-old daughter Te Ngaru-Tira TeRauna-Lamont is in the team.

“She has cerebral palsy, but has been brought up with all the other kids doing normal sport,” Lamont said.

“She really doesn't think she has a disability.”

Many of the players attend Gisborne's Vanessa Lowndes Centre, a place connecting those with mental, physical or intellectual disabilities with employment opportunities.

Vanessa Lowndes Centre attendee Boss Apelu said: “Basketball makes me feel good. I like playing and I like the company.”

The 2022 National Māori Basketball Tournament will be held at the Energy Events Centre in Rotorua from January 24 to 29.

DOING THE MAHI: Caleb Campbell does the mahi (work) practising his jump shot at the team's first training session. Picture supplied