Thirty-two men and women surround a basketball hoop that has been rolled onto a flat patch of mowed grass just north of Pillar Point Harbor. They pay rapt attention to coach and father Terry McKinney, who is encouraging them to take their shot — at the basket and at life beyond this field.
Saturday was the first time these players have been able to play together in 14 months, since before the pandemic. It’s clear that members of the Coastside’s Big Wave community for adults living with developmental disabilities have missed the game and each other.
“It’s rather easy to get sedentary during COVID,” explained player Matt Cadigan Hearn, who acknowledged that without such structured play he was more likely to be playing video games on a computer. “Basketball forces me to act. It’s a way to uncloud my mind.”
For most who play the game recreationally, basketball is a diversion, exercise and a chance to be a part of something bigger. Big Wave’s four Special Olympic teams are no different. In more normal times, the teams play tournaments including at the gym at Sea Crest School in Half Moon Bay. Those games can lead to regional and even statewide titles. But this winter’s games were lost amid the global health crisis.
For now, it’s enough to gather and shake off the rust. Emmy Gainza, a member of the Raptors team, says she has gotten better over the years.
“I started playing when I was 8 and now I’m 30,” she said. “Now (the coaching) is going in both ears and it’s really fun.”
The southern seven acres of the Big Wave property was alive on Saturday, and the gathering was another tangible sign of the strides being made after decades of behind-the-scenes work that included sometimes acrimonious public hearings over the project. Ground has been broken for the multifaceted Big Wave program that is to include about 60 apartments for adults with developmental disabilities as well as opportunities for employment, mentorship, recreation and even dining for the wider community. Construction is expected to be complete in 2022.
As with the regular “farm days” on Big Wave property, in which families and volunteers cultivate land and share the produce, basketball on the property is a family affair.
John Yoshimine first got involved when his own son was younger. Today, he is a coach working with the adult children of people who have become friends. He says these days together are just as important for parents like him.
“The parents don’t have a lot of opportunity to socialize because their families take so much time,” he said.
What does he try to convey as a coach?
“We just tell them to do three things: Do your best, never give up, and have fun. We keep repeating that,” he said. “If all you can do is carry the basketball and that is your best, that is OK.
“And if you don’t have fun, what’s the point?” he asked.