By day, Troy Vosberg is our Director of Finance, but in his free time, he plays the role of coach on the basketball court. In January of 2018, Troy first became involved with the Special Olympics basketball team, the Gators, in Wahpeton, ND, as an assistant to long-time coach, Wayne Beyer. Troy’s son Lukas has down syndrome and was 3 years old at the time. Typically, an athlete can start participating in Special Olympics at age 8. Knowing this, Troy said, “I knew I had 5 years to get in front of everything and make sure Lukas had the best path available to him with Special Olympics, if he wanted when the time came. I also had met a couple of the athletes at a fundraiser, and I wanted to dedicate some time in my life for these people in our community.”
In January of 2019, Troy took on the role of head coach of the team and assisted with track over the last few years, as well. When asking Troy about the Gators, he explained, “Each year our team consists of 7-9 players, depending on who can play. We have had the same core for the last 4-5 years. They range in age from 20-45 years old and are always wanting to learn how to do things better. It is my favorite time of the week when I get to go on the court and help them become better athletes.” There are many divisions in North Dakota for Special Olympics basketball and the Gators were in Division III this year, out of 5 adult divisions. Each division contains 7-8 teams and there is also a youth division of 8 teams.
When asking Troy about challenges the team has faced in their time together, he reflected on the 2021 and 2022 seasons, when COVID played a part in the season. “The athletes were not able to play together and had to practice at different hoops individually, with no tournaments to look forward to. I commend them on still coming out each week and continuing to give it their all to get better. You could definitely tell they did not give up on the game when they came to play at tournament time this year!”
The last few years, the Gators have found success at both the district and state levels. They won the District Championship in Jamestown, ND this February. Two weeks later they attended the State Tournament in Minot, ND. “This year, in our semi-final game at State, we were down 1 with 6 seconds left on the clock. The other team had the ball on their end of the court to inbound. We had our tallest player stand in the middle and try to pick-off a pass as it was being inbounded. He happened to steal the ball, pass it out to our best shooter, who then went the length of the floor, and pulled up a 10-foot jump shot, nailing it as time expired, winning the game and sending the Gators to the State Championship! The whole place went crazy, and he walked up to me and said, “Not a bad shot, right coach?” The shot was fantastic, but the way they all approached each other after the game, made my whole year. Our athletes were not boastful or too proud and the other team who just lost a crushing game, were still smiling and wishing our team the best of luck in the Championship. It is something you just don’t see these days at any level of sport. These are incredible life lessons from people who are just thankful to be on the court and get a chance to compete with each other!”
This year, there were a total of 41 teams in the 2023 State Tournament, which was hosted in Minot, ND. Following that buzzer-beater win in the semi’s, the Gators went on to win the State Championship in their division. Last year, they had an athlete (the one who made the game-winning shot in the semi-finals this year) play for Team North Dakota at the Special Olympics World Games, which was hosted last summer in Florida. Troy has truly enjoyed his time coaching the Special Olympics athletes. “They will most likely never realize how much they teach me! I never realized the joy I would be receiving from this group of people as well and the lessons on how to enjoy life!”