After about two months of practices, Special Olympics athletes from Leavenworth will participate in their home tournament at Leavenworth High School.

Saturday kicks off the season with the Ralph Matzeder Special Olympics Basketball Tournament. 

This year’s tournament will have 24 teams. Teams are from Douglas County, Pittsburg, Blue Valley, Kansas City, Kansas and Leavenworth County.

There are five teams from Leavenworth and each team is guaranteed to play at least two games. 

The tournament is named after Matzeder, who was a strong supporter of the Leavenworth County Special Olympics for numerous years before he retired just before he was 85.

“Ralph was instrumental in the founding and building of Riverside Resources in Leavenworth,” Vicki Lozenski, local coordinator of the Leavenworth County Special Olympic Program and the tournament director, said. “Which is a workshop for individuals with disabilities. Because of his support and dedication to our Special Olympics program, we named our basketball tournament in honor of him 18 years ago.

Lozenski said Matzeder died a few years ago but his loyalty to the program has not been forgotten. 

Action for the tournament starts at 8:30 a.m. with the “Make the Point” fundraiser. It’s the first thing done the day of the tournament every year. Lozenski said it originally started as a way to pay for the bus to Hays when the state basketball tournament used to be played there. Athletes collect donations two weeks prior to the tournament and are split up into six groups. Athletes have one minute to make as many free throws as they can. If an athlete collected at least $75, they get a new T-shirt. Prizes are also awarded to the top money collectors.

Next is the opening ceremony. The ceremony begins at 9:15 a.m. in the main gym at Leavenworth. The teams are introduced and the Leavenworth JROTC color guard will present the colors. Lozenski said several athletes will also participate with the color guard. James Hermann will sing the national anthem this year. Hermann is a 1999 graduate of Leavenworth and one of the athletes participating. A performance by the Leavenworth cheerleaders will follow before the athlete’s oath and a short description about Matzeder takes place.

Games will then be played starting at 10 a.m. and continue throughout the afternoon.

Lozenski said there are about 45 returning athletes for Leavenworth this year and only about five newcomers. 

She also said practices have been good when the team has been able to practice.

“The weather has not been very cooperative with us this season,” she said. “We’ve had to cancel the Wednesday night practice session the past four weeks.” 

Lozenski also said the teams were supposed to play in a league in the Blue Valley area this season, but weather canceled all of those games. 

She said the athletes are excited to play actual games.

“Plus, it is always really exciting to play in this tournament as many more of their families and friends get to attend and watch them perform,” Lozenski said.