For Katie Pratt, 17, and Vera Lindquist, 17, the State Basketball Tournament can’t come fast enough.

Katie attends Grant Community High School in Fox Lake and Vera attends Round Lake High School. Both are looking forward to the 2023 Special Olympics Illinois State Basketball Tournament on March 10 and 11.

Katie said she is excited to compete with her team of six. She is also looking forward to traveling to Bloomington-Normal, going to the Victory Dance, and more. Katie’s coach, Allison Barker, added, “Katie is most excited about staying in the hotel.”

a person smiling while riding a bike
Athlete Katie Pratt

Vera also shared similar elation. She said her favorite thing about being an athlete for Special Olympics Illinois is the traveling she gets to do for competitions. Her two coaches, Jenny Simpson and Linda Calmeyer, said Vera has shared that she also looks forward to winning medals and the different food and snacks at state competitions. She, too, is looking forward to the Victory Dance and laser tag.

For Katie, this will be her first time attending a state championship. “Katie uses walking sticks to get around,” said Allison, “and her favorite thing to do is shoot the ball. She does a really good job of shooting.”

Vera’s grandma, Cheryl Calcese, said she has seen a tremendous change in Vera in her nine years of competing as an athlete for Special Olympics Illinois. “She believes in herself more,” Cheryl said. “Having a learning disability doesn’t make her less than anyone else, she just learns differently. She gets excited now. She looks excited.”

Katie’s coach, Allison, shared similar sentiments. “Being an athlete for three years has helped her make stronger friendships with her teammates,” she said. “Katie loves being a good teammate and friend.”

When Vera and Katie are not competing, you can find them hanging with friends and dancing. “Vera’s our cheerleader,” Jenny said. “She loves being with her friends.”

“Katie is the most social butterfly I have ever met. She would hang out with her friends and be at school all day long if she could,” Allison added.

When it comes to the impact Katie and Vera have made on their communities, everyone was in agreement that when it comes to these two athletes, their inspiration is extraordinary.

“I never leave a practice without being happy and excited,” Allison said. “Katie’s excitement rubs off on me all the time.”

a person with a fur hat
Athlete Vera Lindquist

Katie added, “I like to be proud of myself. I like helping my team.”

“The other athletes inspire Vera,” Linda noted. “If she sees they can do it, she believes she can too.”

“All the kids look for Vera,” Cheryl added, “She’s a different person since becoming an athlete. I’m very proud of what it has done for her.”

Click here to volunteer or to learn more about the 2023 Special Olympics Illinois State Basketball Tournament.