For years, they met at a Queens Catholic School gymnasium until Hurricane Sandy forced them out. Now, the Rockaway Special Athletes are returning to the place they call their home away from home, with some improvements. NY1's Arlene Borenstein filed the following report.
The Rockaway Special Athletes are happy to be back on their old court for the first time in a year.
Hurricane Sandy kicked them out after nearly two decades meeting at St. Camillus-St. Virgilius Catholic Church in Rockaway Park.
"Saint Camillus is my home," said one athlete.
"I'm happy to be here," said another.
The gym needed major repairs after the storm ripped through it. Now, there's a new basketball court, and wood paneling on the walls was replaced.
For a few months, the space was used as a makeshift supply headquarters to help people in the aftermath, but the group, which serves local residents with cognitive disabilities, was left without a place to go. Their weekly gatherings playing sports and meeting friends were on hiatus.
"It tore everything," said one athlete.
However, the storm's destruction also brought forth generosity. Saint Rose of Lima Catholic School hosted the group for several months in their gym, and after hearing about the Rockaway Special Athletes' previously on NY1, the New York Yankees selected them to be a part of their Hope Week in July. The kids watched batting practice, stayed for a game nd were invited to throw out the first pitch.
Terrence Burke had an amazing throw. His coach, Joe Featherstone, the founder of the organization, was there.
"As I said to the Yankees, I said, 'That was a highlight of maybe our 17, 18 years,'" Featherstone said.
Featherstone started the organization in 1995. He was a teacher with New York city public schools who felt there was a need for organizations like this.
"You see their enthusiasm, you see their unbridled love - is that the right word? - their unbridled love and enthusiasm. They're so appreciative and thankful," he said. "They teach us a lot about life."
"Be happy, be strong, be tough, I am," said one athlete.
Strong and unified, and finally back on their home court.