Milford Central Academy (MCA) hosted the Delaware Special Olympics Basketball Skill Competition for the third time this year on Wednesday, November 5. More than 1,400 Special Olympics Delaware (SODE) athletes at all levels across the state will take place in the competition over a 15-day period. Hosting the event in the Milford School District for over ten years now, this was the second 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 Wednesday’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.
Milford Central Academy Principal Nancy Carnevale welcomed athletes and their unified partners to the MCA gymnasium. “I cannot think of a more wonderful cause, it makes our hearts warm to see our students lifting each other up.”
As with several other SODE events, athletes are paired with peer partners from the same school to encourage students of all abilities to have fun and participate. The athlete-peer partner relationship is an ongoing partnership that is built through competition and mutual support throughout the school year. Fifth graders Riley Baker and Claire Rafferty participated in this event and helped each other as they earned a Bronze medal. Baker has been an athlete with the Special Olympics of Delaware program for four years.
“It is fun to play basketball and to win medals,” said Baker. “[Clair] has taught me how to play basketball better, I enjoy talking to her.”
Unified partner Claire Rafferty participated in the event for her first time. “My brother is special needs, he has autism, and I have had experience with special needs my whole life,” said Rafferty. “This event allows me to show respect to children with disabilities and help them do what I do best.” Rafferty acknowledges that Baker has helped her become a better listener as she enjoyed talking with her about basketball and the event.
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’ve been practicing for the past 10 weeks. Our athletes look forward to their own shining moment.”
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.”