Coach Josh Payton says his team's latest accomplishment "can't be classified as anything short of amazing."
Fenton High School's Special Olympics basketball team formed just last year, yet players already are on their way to their second state championship.
The coed team from Bensenville will head to Bloomington to compete in the state basketball championships March 16-18 at Illinois State University. The squad qualified last week when it clinched the district championship title.
"To be able to take any group of athletes to state is just a tremendous accomplishment," said Payton, a Fenton special education teacher. "These kids come to practice two to three days a week and work so hard. So it's nice to see them able to go and perform and compete at the state level. It really sets the bar high."
Thirteen players also competed at state last year, but getting there required some help -- and will again this winter.
On Feb. 8, Fenton will host a charity basketball game to raise about $2,000 needed for the team to travel to the tournament. The game will pit Fenton staff members against officials from Bensenville.
And this isn't the only way the Fenton community has helped the team work its way back to state.
Payton said about 15 student volunteers, called peer coaches, are a huge secret to the team's success. Some peer coaches get community service credit for getting involved with the team initially, but Payton said many remain in their roles long after they've earned their grades.
"They are all working with our athletes helping to make sure they get one-on-one attention with their skills," Payton said. "It's been phenomenal to see the connections that are formed. They sit together at lunch, walk the hallways together. I've seen no other school that has that component."
Team point guard Colin Staffeldt, a 17-year-old junior, said the other key to Fenton's strength on the court is his team's cooperation and camaraderie.
"We play so well together," Colin said, adding that he's feeling confident about state.
"I'm not nervous (but) it's exciting," he said. "We are going to do our best to try and win."
Admission to the Feb. 8 fundraiser game, which starts at 6 p.m., is $4. It will be in the front gym at Fenton, 1000 West Green St., Bensenville.
Fenton's Interact Club, a Rotary International service club for students, is organizing the event.