Each year Special Olympics Kansas recognizes an athlete as the most inspirational at the annual State Basketball tournament.

Harvey County Wildcat athlete, Tristian Smith, was chosen as the winner of this award at the recent tournament.  Smith was chosen from more than 1,200 athletes at the competition.

“It was hard to take this in,” Smith said. “They chose me out of everyone. It is hard to believe they chose me, I may not deserve the award. …. This is a rare moment to me, to get an award like that.”

Smith was named for the award because of not only his hard work on the court as an athlete, but his leadership as a team mate. He pitches in to help the coaches and spends time trying to provide an emotional boost for all of his team mates.

"Tristian is always encouraging others to do their best, both on and off the court.  Should anyone feel discouraged, he is there to boost their spirits and attitude,” said coach, Joey Schmidt. Schmidt works as a para educator for the Harvey County Special Education Cooperative. “He helps his coaches with a smile. Whether helping move water coolers to gathering balls after practice, he is happy to assist. He practices on his own and often asks others to join him to help develop their basketball skills,”

Smith has been an athlete with Harvey County for 7 years.  His favorite sport is basketball. He also swims, plays soccer, does track and field and bowling with his Special Olympics team.

Smith said his favorite sport is basketball, and that is the sport he practices the most.

“Do your best at what you are good at,” Smith said. “I have to say thank you to all the coaches, for all of them to be there for us. … They take a long time to be there with us and I am very proud of our coaches who are there for us.”

The award, named in honor of former athlete Gary Samuels, is presented to an athlete who exhibits teamwork, support and enthusiasm for their game.

Gary Samuels was a member of the Lawrence Green Machine Special Olympics Team from 1974 until his death in March, 1989.  While he participated in many sports. Basketball was always his favorite. He was best known for his “Rainbow” shot, a hook shot from half court, which he sank with amazing accuracy.  Following his death from cancer, his family wanted to establish a memorial with SOKS in Gary’s name.  The Gary Samuels Most Inspirational Athlete Award was established at the State Basketball Tournament.  The award is presented annually at the dance to an athlete who exhibits teamwork, support and enthusiasm for their game.