Unified Sports Program Hits the Court

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Telegram & Gazette (Massachusetts)


SHREWSBURY — With a final, exciting game in front of a packed gymnasium, another successful season of Unified Basketball came to an end recently at Shrewsbury High School.

"We've had Unified Track and Field for several years, and this was our third season of Unified Basketball," said Shrewsbury High Special Education Director Catherine LaRoche, noting that Unified Sports brings together athletes with and without intellectual disabilities to train and compete on the same team.

The Shrewsbury High program follows the lead of Special Olympics Massachusetts and its mission of "expanding sports opportunities and helping to break down the barriers that have historically kept people with and without intellectual disabilities apart."

"In Unified Basketball, the partners don't shoot, but guide the athletes down the court and help in rebounding and passing," Ms. LaRoche said. "It's been a great program for everyone involved."

"I like to shoot the ball and score," said junior Rahul Manoj, a Shrewsbury athlete whose student partner was junior Declan McSweeney. "It was fun riding the bus with Declan, too," he added.

"Rahul has an amazing shot," Ms. LaRoche said.

"It was a great experience and a lot of fun," said Declan, who explained that the team, coached by Shrewsbury staff member Kevin O'Connor, had two practices a week and one game a week once the season began. The Colonials played against other high school unified teams from Auburn, Marlboro, and Groton-Dunstable.

"Rahul wears No. 5, and I'm 12," said Declan, adding with a laugh. "We have been called together — No. 17."

Against Auburn, in the down-to-the buzzer last game at home, Shrewsbury edged the Rockets by only two points.

The winning points, the winning basket, came from senior athlete Alefia Dahod, who quickly drove the baseline and made a clutch layup.

"That felt very good," said Alefia, the senior captain. "The whole football team was there cheering for us. It was just a great experience."

"Alefia has been a great leader for the team," Declan said.

John West, a sophomore starter on the Shrewsbury High boys' basketball team, partnered with team high scorer Justin Wentzel, who said, "I love to play with John and I love to shoot and score." In a previous game, Justin netted 20 points.

"Seeing everyone on the team react to something good happening on the court was just awesome," John said. "It made me feel so good to know that you're doing things for kids at the school who you wouldn't necessarily get a chance to without Unified Sports."

Sophomore Sammi Adams was another valuable athlete for the Colonials. "I love playing basketball, and it was great playing with my friends, especially the last game with the crowd there and the band playing," she said. "It was also nice hanging out with all the players after."

Shrewsbury High Principal Todd Bazydlo praised the fundraising efforts from many sources in the community that have helped keep the Unified Sports Programs operative.

"Unified Sports provides the access for students with disabilities with their non-disabled peers," Mr. Bazydlo said. "Our student-athletes get so much from the program and the student-partners get as much or more in developing their character and empathy for their age-related peers."

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December 13, 2017


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