Milford Central Academy hosted the Delaware Special Olympics Basketball Skill Competition for the first time this year on Thursday, November 21. More than 1,500 Special Olympics Delaware (SODE) athletes at all levels across the state took place in the competition over a 15-day period. Hosting the event in the Milford School District for over ten years now, this was also the first year that all schools in the Milford District were involved. At the competition, athletes participated individually and as a team with their Unified Partners, peers without disabilities, in the three basic skills of basketball: dribbling, passing and shooting.
Milford High School students involved in Project UNIFY volunteered at Thursday’s event as they led athletes though the competition and presented them with medals. Project UNIFY is a national project funded by the U.S. Department of Education aimed at creating communities through school that foster respect, dignity and advocacy for people with intellectual disabilities. The project utilizes the programs and initiatives of Special Olympics.
“Special Olympics Delaware is such a great organization and it does so much for our athletes,” commented Carol Breeding, Milford Central Academy Program Director. “You just cannot express in words all the benefits for the kids. It gives athletes an opportunity to participate in sports, gives them confidence in their abilities and builds a relationship with their unified partners.”
Special Olympics Delaware is made up of over 3,500 athletes participating in over 100 statewide programs. The organization will have over 60 teams competing in this year’s team tournaments and a total of more than 1,500 athletes and Unified partners participating in all events. The Basketball Skills Competition is an event that student athletes and unified partners look forward to all year long.
“It’s an exciting time of year for anyone playing basketball as seasons get under way,” said Jon Buzby, spokesperson for Special Olympics Delaware, “and for our athletes it’s no different. These events are their state championship. It’s their opportunity to show off their basketball talents through skills events they have been practicing for the past 10 weeks. Our athletes look forward to their own shining moment.”
Athlete Thomas Dunning and Unified Partner Allen Sivels were one pair of students competing from Lulu Ross Elementary on Thursday. Only his first year as a unified partner, Allen has learned a lot from Thomas who has been involved with the program for four years.
“I like doing my best and trying,” commented Thomas. “Allen has helped me with my shooting.”
“I like having fun and having everyone gather together from all the different schools,” commented Allen. “Thomas has taught me not to give up, believe in yourself and always do your best.”
The SODE Basketball Tournament was a huge success, filling the Milford Central Academy gym with athletes, Unified Partners and families watching the excitement. Special Olympics Delaware hopes that introducing children to the Special Olympics programs at an early age will foster the lifelong ideals of sharing, understanding and friendship.
“Our hope is that if students are introduced to Special Olympics in schools they will want to join our Special Olympics Delaware programs in their community,” stated Buzby. “The athletes are given a chance to train, compete and socialize while the unified partners receive an opportunity to find a true respect for someone who may have a disability, as their interaction with them allows them to see that their partner is not too different than themselves.”