Nonprofit Spotlight: Spirit League of North Carolina

In 2016, Mike Schoor, Laura Meshwork and four other co-founders launched The Spirit League with 12 players. The nonprofit now serves serves more than 100 teens and young adults with special needs, enabling them to exercise together, have fun and make friends.

Mike Schoor is passionate about basketball.

Before moving to the Triangle in 2014, he spent seven seasons as an assistant high school basketball coach and four years as a travel team coach. This experience convinced him that a basketball league would be the perfect place for his fiancee Laura Meshwork’s special needs daughter, Chandler, to develop friendships and stay active.

There were a few sports leagues and programs for teens with special needs and disabilities, but most of them had limitations. They didn’t operate year-round, and often only allowed participation up to a certain age.

Schoor and Meshwork decided to try something different. With the help of family friend Cal Maxwell, a YMCA youth director, they launched Spirit League of North Carolina, a basketball league for athletes with special needs and disabilities, in early 2016. Spirit League operates year-round, offering athletes a consistent opportunity for socialization and exercise.

“For us to have a continual program that goes throughout the year, that makes it easier for the kids and the adults to make friends,” Meshwork said.

Additionally, Spirit League doesn’t have an age limit, creating a place where participants always have a community, no matter their age. When creating the Spirit League, Schoor and his team went into it knowing that it would have to be year-round, it would have to be in a fixed place, in a safe enclosed environment, and it would have to continue forever.

Among the founders of the Spirit League are, from left, Mike Schoor, Cal Maxwell, Trevor Thomas and James Mauney.

The nonprofit got its start in Apex and has since expanded to an additional league in Wake Forest. There are around 90 athletes in the league at any given time, from teens to young adults.

“I have been surprised at the level of love and warmth that has permeated the entire program,” said Schoor. “The number one thing you see when you come to one of our practices is joy.”

The teams meet weekly to practice and hang out together, over three eight-week sessions held throughout the year. Their practices entail warm-ups, icebreakers, socialization and basketball skills and drills. The league also travels regularly to play at college and high school games in the area, and those games are some of the players’ and coaches’ favorite memories.

“The most unforgettable experience was when our athletes were the halftime show of the 2019 N.C. State vs. Duke men’s basketball game in Cameron Indoor Stadium,” Maxwell said. “I am a huge N.C. State fan, so to see them get to play Duke and Zion Williamson in Cameron was incredibly special. Our athletes put on an absolute show for the Cameron Crazies.”

“My favorite memory from Spirit League was when I made a half court shot at Panther Creek High School and at N.C. State,” said player Connor Fullem.

Though COVID has paused any travel games for the near future, Spirit League hasn’t stopped. Volunteers have been holding Zoom and outdoor in-person practices and have tried to keep in touch with as many of the athletes as they can. They’ve been keeping busy with other activities too, like socially-distant walks, bike rides and car bingo.

“Our volunteers are really invested in [Spirit League],” Schoor said. “They know the athletes’ names; the athletes know them. They are all friends on Facebook, and it becomes a little bit of a family as well.”

Spirit League’s volunteers are often high school and college students, so they are closer in age to the athletes, Meshwork says.

There are few programs like Spirit League in Apex and Wake Forest, so it has been a much-needed resource for teens with disabilities and their families.

“It has helped the community fill the void of needing some more programming for [athletes with] special needs,” said Meshwork.

“It is all about building bridges between the special needs community and the community at large,” Schoor said. “Basketball is a great conduit and resource for that, and it enables so many people to see our athletes succeed, be happy and achieve and build the same type of relationships that I think those not in the special needs community take for granted.”

Spirit League’s emphasis on community and relationship-building means that it’s “not just for kids that love basketball. it is for kids that just want to be around other kids,” said Meshwork.

It’s also provided a space for their parents and caregivers to find community, resources and help through one another.

“There is so much uncharted territory with special needs young adults,” Schoor said. The founders of Spirit League have been surprised at how influential it has been in their own lives and the lives of their athletes.

“Spirit League has been one of the biggest blessings in my life,” said Maxwell, “and I am so excited to see the continued impact it has on so many incredible people and athletes.”

To get involved with Spirit League of North Carolina, either as a volunteer or participant, visit

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