This past weekend I had the pleasure of covering the unified basketball state championships. Cranston West and Johnston made the trip from our coverage area and each team put on a show and finished …
This past weekend I had the pleasure of covering the unified basketball state championships. Cranston West and Johnston made the trip from our coverage area and each team put on a show and finished as division runners up.
Unified sports continue to be a vital part of our high school athletics landscape and I am thrilled to see their continued growth over the years.
I was not familiar with unified sports when I began writing full time. I was working up in Maine when I was first introduced, and at that point, most states only offered basketball.
Now, a decade later, most states offer multiple sports, more schools have unified programs, and the numbers of both athletes and partners have skyrocketed. It’s a great concept that has been embraced as it should.
This past weekend’s state championships were held at Bishop Hendricken and the buzz was great. Ten years ago, state championships would typically be played in front of just the parents of the players, maybe with 100 or so people in the stands.
On Saturday, there were hundreds of people in attendance and it did not just include parents, there were school administrators, other students. It was a great crowd.
Another thing that I noticed was that there were more varsity basketball players and coaches helping out with these teams. When I covered unified basketball in Maine, it would take place in the winter. In Rhode Island, it is a spring sport which is the smart play because it gives the varsity players and coaches a chance to lend a hand. Now, more varsity personnel than ever took part.
Usually it is the special education department that coaches these kids and runs the team. We all know that in the bigger picture, the X’s and O’s of the game are secondary to the team building and interaction aspect of unified sports. But to be able to have more coaches and players involved is a great plus. It allows these kids to learn the game at a higher level.
Now, like I said, unified sports go beyond just what we see on the court.
The Special Olympics give athletes with disabilities the chance to compete in their respective sports along with other athletes with disabilties. There are volunteers that help coach and organize things, but the majority of the players on the field are the athletes.
With unified, the partners (kids without disabilities) are integrated on the rosters and play as well. There are certain parameters that are in place, like the percentage of points a partner is allowed to score, the number of partners allowed on the court at once, things of that nature.
That is the difference in the standard program with the Special Olympics and unified sports, and it’s a clear and important distinction.
By the way, the Special Olympics partners with the Rhode Island Interscholatic League and does fantastic work, let me be clear.
But that direct connection between the athletes and players is massive. They are on the same team, competing longside one another. It takes every single person involved to get the job done.
That is the key with unified sports, that is what makes them so special. It gives these kids the chance to interact in ways that their normal walks of life may not always allow, it allows them to meet new faces, learn how to function as a team, build relationships and create memories, all while being able to learn the basics of a sport.
It’s always a feel-good environment when watching. Whether it is the excitement of the athletes when they hit a big shot, seeing the crowd get involved, knowing that these kids are also getting varsity letters, it’s such an incredible program.
My favorite thing by far, though, are the interactions between the athletes and partners. There is so much respect, admiration and love between these kids and it is heartwarming to say the least. You never leave the gymnasium without a smile on your face.
So, as always, I would recommend watching unified sports whether you are involved or not. I was thrilled to see how much they have continued to grow and the support that they have gained. I would say that they need our help and support, but clearly, they are doing just fine which is awesome. Still, let’s give a shout out to our unified sports.
Another week, another chance to see a Rhode Islander make history on the national level.
The Boston Celtics grabbed a tough, Game 7 win in the NBA’s Eastern Conference Semis against the Philadelphia 76ers. Another big time achievement for head coach and Johsnton native Joe Mazzulla.
This was an important series for the young head coach, who is already experiencing the highs and lows of the playoffs in his first season.
In the first round, although the Atlanta Hawks pushed the series to six games and made the Celtics earn it, there was never truly any doubt. In this past series, Philly took a 3-2 lead and made the Celtics pull off the unlikely comeback win.
For Mazzulla specifically, I think this is a good thing. He now knows what it takes to overcome adversity and how to coach his team to a win in high-pressure situations. He got a taste of it as an assistant, but now he has it under his belt as the head honcho.
The timing is great as well. Better to learn it now instead of later in the postseason when wins are even tougher to come by.
Next up is the Miami Heat. On paper, the Celtics are far superior, but the Heat are so tough, so scrappy, and will present plenty of problems come gametime. I think the Celtics will get the job done considering the considerable talent advantage they have, but I am expecting this series to go seven games regardless. Let’s see how Mazzulla approaches this round.
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