Evanston basketball player chosen to compete in 2018 Special Olympics USA Games


Source: Patrick Deignan/City of Evanston

Mike Daugerdas poses for a picture. Daugerdas will compete for Team Illinois basketball at the Special Olympics USA Games in July.

Julia Esparza, Reporter

Evanston Special Recreation athlete Mike Daugerdas developed a childhood passion for basketball when he began playing the sport in an alley with neighbors.

As he grew older, Daugerdas, who said he has a learning disability, took advantage of any opportunity to join a pick-up game and improve his skills.

In April, the Wilmette resident was one of 12 players selected for Team Illinois basketball, which will compete in the July 2018 Special Olympics USA Games. Daugerdas — the first player from the Evanston program to play in the games — said he was chosen from a competitive pool of 50 athletes.

“(Basketball) has always been one of my passions,” Daugerdas said. “I love the sport and I love to compete. I don’t see my disability as problem for that.”

He first started playing with New Trier High School’s Special Olympics Program while attending school there. He then moved to Northern Suburban Special Recreation, and, after about four years, joined the team in Evanston. Daugerdas said he has played there for the last two years.

The 27-year-old — who plays both the forward and center positions — said the higher level of competition he encountered while training in Evanston afforded him the chance to try out and make the team, which will compete in Seattle.

The Special Olympics USA Games are held every four years and include various athletic competitions for individuals with mental and physical disabilities from all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

The athletes from Illinois will spend the coming months lifting and working out to prepare for the games, Evanston Special Recreation coach Leonard Woodson said.

“This is huge,” he said. “These are top-shelf athletes from each of the states.”

Daugerdas graduated from New Trier High School in 2009 and went to Oakton Community College before attending the University of Iowa. He said he currently works as a paraprofessional at Camelot Therapeutic Day School of Mount Prospect.

Jessica Thompson, who coaches the North Suburban team, said Daugerdas was the team’s best athlete. She said he added a special dynamic to the team, worked hard and got along well with everyone.

“He was a great player and great person,” Thompson said. “Mike goes the extra mile for both his teammates and his coaches.”

Woodson, who has coached Daugerdas during his two years in Evanston, said he is an aggressive, yet smart player.

Daugerdas said Woodson taught him that basketball “isn’t a one man show.” He said he learned to lean on his teammates on the court.

He added that he was grateful for the opportunities and practice time he received while in Evanston. Daugerdas said he was not only able to play new teams and athletes, but also had the chance to travel to the Special Olympics State Basketball Tournament in March, where he tried out for the state team.

“I needed a different challenge and I needed a different mindset,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot more at Evanston than the other two places I was playing at.”

Woodson said Daugerdas being selected to the team “speaks to how hard he has worked.” Woodson will also attend the games in Seattle as the Illinois coach in the Bocce event.

He said he is excited to watch Daugerdas compete in July.

“I’m really proud that Mike was selected because its not something that everyone is given the opportunity to do,” Woodson said.

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