Superstars in the Shoals
Shoals United Stars is a special needs sports team made up of students from all across the North Alabama area.
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - The art of basketball encompasses teamwork, selflessness and resiliency. Shoals United Stars is a team in the Shoals built on these characteristics.
The Stars are a team of special needs students who most recently completed their basketball season. Courtney Akins works as the school counselor at Muscle Shoals Middle School and decided to start up this organization back in 2019 due to the lack of representation for kids with special needs.
“There are not a ton of resources really in a lot of places for kids who not just who are severely disabled or have a severe disability, but for kids who are in what I call the grey area,” said Akins.
The Stars come from all over the North Alabama area, ranging from high functioning students to those who are more severe. When the group started up in 2019, it had less than ten players. Today, the Stars have doubled their participation. The team is personal for Akins; her son Eli plays for the Stars, and she says it’s important as a parent to give her child the opportunity to find community.
“It’s very important for me to get to see him and the other kids to be a part of a team and have a place where they feel like they belong,” said Akins.
One of Eli’s teammates is Finn Bayles. Bayles is legally blind and can only see shapes and colors, but that doesn’t stop him from enjoying the sport. He made one of his first buckets in his last basketball game.
“It just makes me feel very special. I meet new friends. That’s the best part of playing and just enjoying these people who are just like me,” said Bayles.
The Stars have people cheering them on every step of the way. Cheerleaders, peers and family members come out to support their games. Anna Wooten, whose son Turner plays for the Stars, says this has been a dream come true.
“This is just so nice to have a community where he can come and be a part of it and you don’t feel like you have to explain yourself. It was something that I thought I would never get to experience honestly, and it’s just a great feeling,” said Wooten.
Wooten was so appreciative that she surprised Akins with a $600 donation after the Stars’ last basketball game that she raised by selling T-shirts. The Stars run strictly off donations, so the community tries to help in any way that they can.
“It’s just a way that we’re able to give back this year,” Wooten said. “Anything was going to be great, but to be able to give 600-dollars is a portion of what she gives of her time and energy, and we’re so thankful for her.”
At the end of the day, it’s not about who scored the most baskets or who wins, it’s about the kids understanding they’re all stars in their own way.
“Our kids deserve an opportunity to play just like everyone else. We should be able to provide that for them, and that’s what I’m trying to do,” Akins said. “They deserve it. They deserve the chance to play and be on a team and have all those experiences just like their peers.”
Looking ahead, Akins is starting a big brother and sister program where older teens can apply to be a mentor. As the saying goes, shoot for the moon; even if you miss you’ll land among the Stars.
Copyright 2022 WAFF. All rights reserved.