The Klamath County Special Olympics team earned its moment.
For what is believed as one of the first occurrences for Klamath County representing Oregon in the Special Olympics USA Games, the select bunch made the most of the opportunity.
A part of Team Oregon’s basketball team, the Klamath Panthers were welcomed like royalty.
Uniforms were provided by Nike for all basketball teams and included home, away jerseys and traveling suits, along with two pairs of shoes.
Members of the Klamath County Special Olympics team were welcomed in the opening ceremony and carried an Oregon banner.
As they walked through, they heard roaring cheers and waived at the thousand-plus crow of people at Husky Stadium.
During the ceremony, The Parade of Athletes, music producer Marshmello, artist Charlie Puth, actor Taye Diggs, The Voice contestant Kyla Jade, American Idol winner Maddie Poppe and artist Allen Stone, were all present to add excitement for the athletes.
The Panthers started the Games against Northern California in pool play and came out victorious.
The first bump in the road was a loss to Kentucky but was enough to have the team make the medal rounds.
In the end, Team Oregon finished in fourth place after again falling to Kentucky, 38-22.
Though being just shy of earning a medal, to many, the imprint the team made was a lasting impression.
Klamath County Special Olympics coordinator and basketball head coach, Darcie Turner, was told through a volunteer that Oregon was one of her favorite teams.
They were seen as the nicest and most encouraging teams that took the floor, not only to teammates but to opposing players.
“To me, it was one of the greatest experiences that I have ever been in,” Klamath Panthers member Jeff Guynn said. “The key was to have fun, but it felt great because you get to do something that maybe others are not able to do. It is a once in a lifetime experience.”
One of the aspects during the USA Games that Guynn said he took to heart most was the different friendships he made from the rest of the teams on Team Oregon.
Guynn, 45, is one of the longest standing members in Klamath County Special Olympics and has been with the club for 30 years.
He moved to Klamath Falls when he was 8 years old, and it was in high school he began his experience with the Special Olympics team.
Coincidentally, going to the USA Games brought back Guynn to Seattle, his place of birth.
After having a job with the Klamath County School District, Guynn decided to stay in the Klamath Basin when his family decided to move back to Tri-Cities in Washington.
Guynn’s experience in the USA Games meant a little more for him as his entire family was there to cheer him on.
The only person missing at the Games for Guynn was his father, who he now says is his biggest inspiration in life.
“My dad passed away about three years ago. He had diabetes,” Guynn said. “Instead of being sad about it, I played basketball more because that was what he loved. I play for him. I know he is smiling down.”
During the Klamath Panthers time at the Games, the members on the team got a chance to hear different testimonies from other players.
“To represent Oregon and being chosen was one of my biggest honors,” Klamath County Special Olympics member Jon Hurley said. “I met a really great person there and I learned about his disability. We got to hear so many stories and even heard a story of someone who lost their hand after an accident. Everyone cheered everyone on. We got to see we are not the only people who struggle with something.”