A group of Conway High School East ninth and 10th-grade students brought gold medals back from the Arkansas Special Olympics state basketball tournament Friday night.

The 10 athletes beat all other teams in their division because of "a lot of good teamwork," according to Lori Brainerd, who coached the team along with co-coaches Tammy Cook and Beth Fulks.

"They really worked as a team to get the ball down the court, get the baskets made and get the rebounds," Brainerd said. "I think that was the main reason we got there: because nobody played selfishly."

Brainerd said that she wanted to thankl coach Tommy McMillan, a Conway ninth-grade basketball coach, for donating uniforms, windsuits and his time driving the team to compete in Russellville Friday night and helping in other ways over the past few months. Also, she said, the faculty and staff of the school who participated in fundraisers for the team deserve a "thank you," as do the members of the Faulkner County Sheriff’s Office, who donated money for the team.

The athletes gave up about half of their lunch periods over the last six weeks to practice, and three scrimmage games were held against a Vilonia School District Special Olympic basketball team. The end result of those efforts, Brainerd said, "is something that they are so proud of and excited about."

"None of them have ever participated in anything like this before, so for them this was like winning in Beijing," she said.

According to Brainerd, this was the first year that Conway High School East has fielded a Special Olympics basketball team, and shouldn’t be the last.

"We hope to make this a tradition and expand it," she said. "We want to try and get more people in the junior high and high schools involved. ... A lot of fans came out, and the community’s really gotten behind us."

The next Conway High School East Special Olympics competition will be a track meet on April 17 hosted by the school.

(Staff writer Joe Lamb can be reached at 505-1238 or by e-mail at joe.lamb@thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit.)