By Shawn Chitnis

LAKEWOOD, Colo. (CBS4) – More than 1,200 students competed in the annual Special Olympics Colorado State Basketball Tournament beginning Friday and continuing all weekend.

The tournament pairs players with intellectual disabilities alongside classmates to create unified teams.

“They’re so much fun and they love to play and I love to play,” said Danny Trout, 17, one of the players on the Smoky Hill High School team.

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(credit: CBS)

Trout’s team are defending champions in their division. Players like him are joined by partners, students that help guide the team during each game. Teams are co-ed and vary in age range.

“I am very grateful that these kids are in my life, they’re the same age as me,” said Demarius Pittman, 17, one of the partners on the Smoky Hill Team. “It’s a great opportunity to build relationships outside of your regular friends.”

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(credit: CBS)

Coach Ron Charleston says this tournament gives students like Trout the chance to experience a level of sportsmanship they would miss out on without these unified teams of players and partners. He has been with the Smoky Hill team for four years.

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Coach Ron Charleston (credit: CBS)

“It’s their March Madness and we’re hoping to bring them the National Championship,” said Charleston. “It’s an opportunity for them to compete and play to the best of their abilities.”

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(credit: CBS)

The Smoky Hill team has created an environment that leads to success on the court and friendships beyond basketball. The team returns to the tournament hoping to keep up the winning streak.

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(credit: CBS)

“It’s really special in my heart and I love [it] and I’m looking forward to another gold medal for five years in a row,” said Trout.

But besides teaching players how to be competitive and develop relationships, it helps the partners grow as students and mature into young adults.

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(credit: CBS)

“It shows you that it doesn’t matter where you come from, your background,” said Chase Lyons, 15, another partner on the team. “It shows that partners and players can be one. There are no setbacks here.”

Smoky Hill will compete this weekend with the winner in their division announced on Sunday.

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(credit: CBS)

“It’s really awesome and I just love it so much,” said Trout.

LINK: Special Olympics Colorado

Shawn Chitnis reports for CBS4 News at 10 on weekends and CBS4 News at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. throughout the week. Email him story ideas at smchitnis@cbs.com and connect with him on Twitter or Facebook.

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