A Royal Court

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Special Olympics Unified Basketball Tips Off with Primetime Exhibition Games

One shot. Two shots. Three shots.

On his fourth shot, Special Olympics Unified Basketball player Mauri dropped it through the hoop, sending hundreds of combined fans, families and students into a frenzy on Friday night at Tamalpais (Tam) High School in Mill Valley, California.

“I felt like Michael Jordan,” exclaimed Mauri, donning a new Nike headband and kicks to complement his San Rafael jersey.

Mauri was one of the Special Olympics athletes taking part in the first Unified Basketball game of the season on Friday, which brings together people with and without physical/intellectual disabilities to play on the same team. It was inspired by a simple principle – that training and competing together is a quick path to friendship, understanding, and inclusion. Unified Sports is especially impactful in schools, where general education students are integrated with students in the special education program in a fun and active setting. Unified Sports is a way for people – and students – to interact with other populations with a common bond and team goal.

“I’ve seen a growth in confidence across the board,” said Michael Lovejoy, special education teacher and head coach for the Unified Basketball team at Tam. “It gives these students the sense that they are part of a strong community. That they’re not on an island.”

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The 12-minute game between San Rafael and Tam was one of three Unified Basketball games across Marin County on Friday evening, each scheduled in primetime between the women’s and men’s varsity games. The showcase provided a unique opportunity to highlight Unified Basketball to a large, captive audience and bring more attention to the positive impacts that it can have on both the students in special education and general education programs.

Other games on Friday included San Marin High School hosting Terra Linda High School and Drake High School hosting Redwood High School – a thrilling game that ended on a last-second three-pointer by Special Olympics athlete Nic, sending fans and students from both schools flooding the court in celebration.

Special Olympics also made a brief public announcement and explanation of the program at each game, and the Athlete Oath was recited. Unified Basketball team lineups are comprised of three students in special education and two students in general education on the court together at a time.

At Tam, the players were introduced individually on the PA system and entered the court through a line of cheerleaders from each school, adding to the all-star experience. Varsity players from the Tam and San Rafael teams cheered on the athletes, giving high-fives and loud support throughout the entire game.

Tam Athletic Director Christina Amoroso hopes that Unified Sports will continue to grow throughout Marin County – and beyond.

“Mr. Lovejoy has done an amazing job of getting his students out within the general population and making them a visible part of the school community,” she said. “This type of inclusion has become the norm here.”

Along with impacting the students with special needs, Lovejoy added that he has noticed a positive influence on the general education students on his team as well.

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“It changes what they do in their daily lives,” said Lovejoy, on the general education players. “They are filled with joy. The little problems that they may have had before become just little problems; which goes against the high school-age stereotype. Now we’ve seen on campus that students, especially those in the stands for these games, are greeting the athletes in the hallway – ‘Hey, great game!’ – and then later coming by my classroom to see how they can get involved.”

Unified Basketball has grown in the Marin County Athletic League (MCAL) to six total teams this season. Unified Sports is offered in a variety of different sports with varying age ranges and levels, both within schools and in the community. Follow on Facebook and Twitter @SONorCal and Instagram @SpecialOlympicsNCA for updates throughout the season and check out the website for more information.

Learn More About Unified Sports (https://www.sonc.org/unified-sports).

Forum for Inclusion

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Clifford O. Findlay Middle School in North Las Vegas is creating a more inclusive environment for students with intellectual disabilities at their school. Teachers nominated students to participate in the Student Leadership Summit where students were educated about intellectual disabilities and then the students had a guided discussion about ways to include their fellow students.

“The summit was a great way for our student leaders to meet other students on the common ground of setting a culture of respect on the Findlay campus,” said Edith Tatlock, an educator in the Autism Program at Clifford O. Findlay Middle School.

Findlay Middle School began their journey into creating a more whole school environment this fall by participating in Respect Week. Respect Week is a school-wide campaign where students take the R-Word Pledge and vow never to use the word ‘retard(ed)’. The R-Word Campaign and Respect Week are great tools for schools to engage students in recognizing ways they can end bullying on campus.

Special Olympics Nevada and Findlay Middle School are looking forward to partnering together to bring Unified Sports to their campus. Unified Sports is an inclusive sports opportunity for students with and without disabilities. Unified Sports is a great way to foster respect among peers by working together and competing as a team. We commend Findlay Middle School, their teachers, and students for taking steps to include and engage all of their students.

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Spring Valley High School Unified Soccer

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Spring Valley High School in Nevada sent two Unified Soccer teams to White Middle School to compete in the Special Olympics Nevada Secondary Unified Soccer tournament.

Special Olympics Unified Sports is an inclusive sports opportunity for students with and without disabilities to participate as equals on the same school team thus benefitting and unifying the entire campus. Special Olympics Nevada in collaboration with Clark County School District Adapted Physical Education department and staff are offering new opportunities to build skills and develop confidence.

Special Olympics Nevada Schools Partnership Program is dedicated to promoting social inclusion through shared sports training and competition experiences.  Having sports in common is just one more way that preconceptions and false ideas are swept away.

The Power of Inclusion

 

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Today, Chris is helping his fellow students in class at Clovis North High School. After completing his work, Chris bounces from group to group checking in on his classmates. Chris has grown significantly socially and academically in a short amount of time due to his participation in Special Olympics Unified Soccer.

This August Clovis Unified School District and the Tri-River Athletic Conference in partnership with Special Olympics Northern California kicked off their inaugural Unified Soccer league. Special Olympics Unified Sports is an inclusive sports opportunity for students with and without disabilities to participate as equals on the same school team thus benefitting and unifying the entire campus. Chris enrolled in soccer and began playing for Clovis North High School.

Teachers noticed changes in Chris immediately. Chris went from socially struggling to confidently engaging with his peers. For the first time, Chris is part of a team. Being part of a team meant that he was treated with respect by his peers because he was part of something bigger. Chris’s teacher Roman Gonzalez said, “Being part of a team made him shine and that is all driven by peer engagement”.

Giving students like Chris an opportunity to shine is why we provide Unified Sports programs. Chris’s family and teachers are thrilled with the changes. It’s more than pushing a ball down the field, it’s about being given the chance to be included and show what you can do. Gaining confidence is a skill that Chris will carry with him his whole life. We are looking forward to seeing Chris compete in basketball in the Spring.

 

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Tri-River Athletic Conference in Clovis

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We would like to welcome the Tri-River Athletic Conference to the Special Olympics Northern California Schools Partnership Program. The Tri-River Athletic Conference embraced Unified Soccer for their inaugural season with 6 schools participating in the unified league. Unified Sports unifies students with and without disabilities. It’s exciting to see unified athletes and unified partners playing together on the same field and fostering whole-school involvement.

The Tri-River Athletic Conference Unified Soccer Showcase was a huge success. The 6 schools that participated in the conference played their hearts out. Unified athletes and unified partners took to the field with their school uniforms, their own logos, and the same fanfare and celebration of any other big school sporting event.

The confidence and skill that this season brought are building blocks for the future. Soccer being such a big sport in Clovis, we are excited to be a part of it. After an extraordinary soccer season, we are all looking forward to the unified basketball league this Spring.

Read what the community of Clovis is saying about this momentous event at http://bit.ly/2faTGmw.