In a way, Fenton High School's Special Olympics basketball team is already way ahead of the game.
Fifteen students on the coed team will compete in a state tournament next month, their second time qualifying after forming just last year. To help raise about $2,000 they need to travel downstate, Fenton volunteers planned a charity basketball game for Feb. 8 at the Bensenville school.
But after the Daily Herald published an article about the fundraiser last week, an anonymous donor from Bloomingdale contributed $1,000 to the cause, while Itasca Bank & Trust also gave $500, school officials said.
The anonymous donor congratulated the team in a card sent to Fenton and said "While I have no affiliation with Fenton High School ... I was moved by the story about your team."
Coach Josh Payton said he was already impressed by local support for the team, but this new round of donations has him "just floored."
"I just couldn't believe somebody would be that generous and kind," said Payton, a special-education teacher. "It's unbelievable."
The team will head to Bloomington to compete in the state basketball championships March 16-18 at Illinois State University. The squad qualified last month when it clinched the district championship title.
School officials said the charity game will still happen Feb. 8, pitting Fenton staff members against officials from Bensenville. Extra proceeds beyond the $500 needed for state will remain in a team account for future costs, such as banquets or uniforms.
"We try to mirror the experience these students would have in a varsity-level sport," Payton said.
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. In addition to its help, about 15 other students work as peer coaches to help the team hone its skills during twice-weekly practices.
Because of these community efforts, officials say the team's accomplishments and last week's donations are thrilling to everyone involved.
"Those (volunteers) have really fallen in love with this team and want to see them shine," Fenton spokeswoman Teri Wood said.