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Special Olympics Lithuania Baller Finds his Voice at Euroleague OneTeam Sessions

One Team participants bravely take on challenges

Last February, a group of basketball players from Special Olympics Lithuania had a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience—they participated in workshops at the top basketball club in the country, Zalgiris Kaunas! The workshop sessions were part of the Euroleague OneTeam programme a project which began in 2012 with the aim of bringing about impactful social change across Europe.

Before the Covid-19 crisis forced the interruption of activities, the athletes had already participated in numerous workshops at the club focused on topics such as tolerance, teamwork, communication, goal-setting, emotional management and leadership. The participants loved the activities and were encouraged to identify among the topics which they felt was most relevant to them at this stage in their lives.

Special Olympics Lithuania basketball player Dainius Kazimieras Pavilonis, participated with great enthusiasm in all the workshops and was especially overjoyed with the opportunity to sit on the Zalgiris bench for the home game against Valencia Basket, which came during the One Team Games in Round 13. When asked about the experience, he commented, “What impressed me the most was seeing the players in person for the first time. […] Paulius Jankūnas is so much bigger than me! I feel so sad it’s all going to end… I really enjoyed myself during this project!”

An athlete holding an certificate with other players standing on either side of him in a gymnasium.
Dainius Pavilonis with Zalgiris players and OneTeam Ambassadors Nigel Hayes and Artūras Milaknis.

Dainius’s passion and enthusiasm did not go unnoticed. Akvile Dagilyte, Zalgiris communications director and coordinator of the OneTeam programme, was deeply impressed by the striking growth she witnessed in Dainius. She remarked, "During his first session, Dainius didn't say a single word, even though the activity was about meeting others and getting over the fear of talking to strangers. He told us that he's shy of talking to strangers and doesn't want to do that.”

"But in the following activities, Dainius not only started talking more, but he became difficult to stop! He participated everywhere. You need someone to ask a question to Zalgiris players? He's got a full page of them. You need someone to run the game? He'll be the volunteer. Speaking to cameras? No problem. Seeing a change like this is absolute happiness. And this is just one example."

To conclude the session, the athletes were asked to respond to a questionnaire to assess the impact of the programme. The results were far more positive than originally anticipated. The participants clearly enjoyed every moment of the sessions and were delighted to have taken part in the OneTeam session. According to the questionnaires, 93% of the participants learned something new and 73% said the programme helped them set goals in life!

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