Unified Basketball Packs House at Patriot High School

| January 31, 2018 | 0 Comments | Education

The Patriot and Potomac Unified Basketball Team pose for a photo on the court. Jan. 2018.

Last week, the bleechers in the Patriot High School gymnasium were packed. Fans, friends and family had come out to see a Unified Sports basketball game between Patriot and Potomac High School.

Several Prince William County high schools have joined Unified Sports teams. They are designed to allow and encourage intellectually disabled students to participate in popular competitive sports alongside their non-disabled student peers.

Unified Sports, is an approach to sports pioneered by the Special Olympics.

“In Unified Sports, teams are made up of people of similar age and ability. That makes practice more fun and games more challenging and exciting for all,” said the Unified Sports webpage at SpecialOlymics.org.

According to the website, young people with intellectual disabilities do not often get a chance to play on their school sports teams, making the league, unique, necessary and valuable.

Julie O’Neill, Unified Basketball Coach, Girls Varsity Lacrosse Coach and physical education teacher at Patriot High School, believes playing on the team is a worthwhile experience for all students.

“All of our athletes are provided with the opportunity to compete and be part of a team together. They gain the friendships and comradery. They learn about sportsmanship, winning and losing. They get to know students with different skills and abilities from themselves. They learn a great deal about teamwork, acceptance and diversity,” she said.

Patriot, Brentsville and Forest Park first formed Unified teams in 2014. Other PWCS high schools soon followed.

“We all worked together to get the program started in the county,” said Coach O’Neill. “We met with the Special Olympics representative for our area.”

Since then, the program has grown from just one game in 2014 to six games this school year, and a tournament scheduled for Feb. 10. Other Unified sports leagues have also been formed at several PWCS high schools, including Track & Field.

O’Neill believes participation in the league helps in the same way that playing competitive sports helps all young people, helping them gain confidence, learn teamwork and dedication among other character-building skills.

“Participating in Unified empowers the athletes. It gives them something to work for and be proud of. Many of them really step out of their comfort zone. They show leadership and personal initiative that you don’t always get to see in their day to day activities,” O’Neill said.

Students enjoy playing on the team for various reasons as well.

“I like that we get to play against other schools, and the challenge,” said Alyssa, a Patriot High School student. “I like that that the teachers take time to put it all together.

And support for the team has only grown over the years. Now, Unified games are a big event that brings school communities together. O’Neill thinks it’s great.

“In a world where there is so much focus on all of the negativity going on, these games are a great way to get to experience a fun and exciting atmosphere of acceptance and understanding. Unfortunately, many people fail to see individuals with disabilities as people with great potential and a wide variety of skills and talents just like everyone else. If you take the time to get to know the kids, you find out a great deal. Our athletes, both with and without disabilities get to play and compete together in a game that they enjoy.”

Tricia Weate, a teacher of students with mild intellectual disabilities at Patriot High School, is the Assistant Coach of the Patriot’s Unified Basketball Team. She praised the team as a terrific opportunity for her students.

“From our very first game to the present, Unified Basketball has been an amazing experience for our students with different abilities and their families. Parents’ response was overwhelming our first year and has not relented. It comes with a lot of prep work but the rewards we reap are unsurpassed. I, myself, get lifted up by being a part of Unified Sports.”

Although Potomac won the game, the Patriot team is 2:2 and excited about the rest of the season.

Photos courtesy of Daniel Newerow of Patriot High School, and Dr. Michael Bishop, Principal of Patriot High School.

© 2018, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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