Monday, April 11, 2016

Local high school basketball team breaks down barriers

Unified Sports, a Special Olympics program, aims to promote the social inclusion of people with intellectual different abilities through the creation of inclusive sports teams.  Now, the program is making a local impact with a Unified basketball team at Washougal High School.

The team is made up of both general education and special education students, and they practice together three days a week.  During the season they have games every Saturday, and they compete in division one, which is considered to be a competitive category.  Participants have been vocal in their support for the program—sophomore general education student Jessie Larson says that she is a better person because of the experience, and special education student Michael Neketuk says he loves the school’s support.

A few of the participants already had some experience with the Unified program: they volunteered in the Unified soccer program last spring.  Larson is one such student, as is senior Brennan Guiles.  It was Guiles love for soccer that brought him to the program, but he soon found he liked the special education participants too, and he says he loves seeing how happy they are about life.

KGW covers the Unified Sports team at Washougal High School.

Coach Dani Allen notes some of the benefits for the special education students: they have to remember to bring their shoes and practice clothes to school, and have their uniforms washed for games.  Being on a team is a big self-esteem booster, Allen continues, saying that the team as a whole has great camaraderie and that individuals are able to build friendships in a way that’s not possible to do in the classroom.

Volunteer coaches advise the team.  Funding comes partly from the WHS special education program, and partly from a $2,000 grant from the Special Olympics for uniforms and equipment.  The games in Unified tournaments are free to attend.

You can learn more about the Washougal High School Unified Sports team from the Camas Post Record, The Columbian, and from KGW.  Learn more about the Unified Sports program and find coaching resources on the Special Olympics website here.

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