Members of the Southside Vipers pose with trophies they earned by winning the Michigan Special Olympics district championship March 3. Submitted photo

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Southside ballers state bound

Published 4:45pm Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Aaron Patterson and Dustin Whyde are on different teams, but both have the same mindset heading into the Michigan Special Olympics state basketball tournament.

“We’re going to bring home the gold,” Patterson said.

“Bring the gold back,” Whyde echoed.

Patterson and Whyde both attend Niles Community Schools’ Southside Learning Center, which services students with special needs. The school has two Special Olympics basketball teams — the Vipers and the Cobras.

Both teams advanced to the state tournament by winning their respective district tournaments March 3 in Caledonia.

Cobras coach Ken Fetke said it is the first time in at least five years both teams made the state tournament.

“The kids are just so excited. A lot of them told me it was the first time they ever won a trophy,” Fetke said.

The Vipers compete in division 1 and the Cobras division 10. Divisions are broken down by skill level, with division 1 being the most skilled and 12 the least skilled.

Whyde, who plays center for the Cobras, scored six points in the district championship game.

“This is my first time going to state,” Whyde said.

Vipers coach James Rose said the Vipers have made state the past three years.

“It’s what they put their heart and soul into,” Rose said.

Fetke said the experience should be a good one for the kids.

“One of the nice things with Special Olympics is we get to work a lot on social skills,” Fetke said. “When you get in a competition like that and you get fouled or you aren’t playing well, it helps you learn how to control your emotions.”

The state tournament is scheduled for March 23-24 in Rockford.

Patterson, who plays for the Vipers, and Whyde both know what it takes to bring home a state championship.

“Teamwork,” both said in unison.

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