By TJ Millman
For those who choose to participate, athletics can truly build a family. Tough practices, close victories, crushing losses…it all brings you together. Unified Basketball, a new addition to Delaware Varsity Sports, is a chance to extend that experience to students that may not usually get a chance to partake in that unique familial bonding. Unified Basketball combines a team of Special Olympic Athletes with Peer Partners, with the rule requiring 3 Special Olympic Athletes on the floor for each team. The Special Olympic Athletes are also known as Unified Athletes, and the Peer Partners are Unified Partners. Milford Head Coach Nick Jefferson is excited by his team’s 2-1 start, but he knows that this goes far beyond winning and losing.
“Everybody plays…that’s the number one goal. Everyone gets in, and everyone has a good time. We have a policy where everyone smiles, and we try to clap after pretty much everything. Our hands are red after practice from all the clapping, but it really builds these kids up. This is considered a varsity sport and all that, but for us it’s about everybody getting a chance to play and have fun,” Jefferson said.
Jefferson’s team mirrored the attitude of their coach, even cheering on the players from the other team as they scored, and the atmosphere around the game was different than any sporting event I had ever been to. So many high school sports are full of aggression and tension that always seems ready to snap for both players and spectators, but this was different. Players, coaches, and fans were really just enjoying the experience. Everyone clapped for each other, players helped each other up, and parents cheered no matter who scored. At the start of the season, Jefferson found himself shocked by this as well.
“I was honestly just shocked by the environment around these games. It doesn’t seem to matter who lost…everyone is just happy. The other players, coaches, fans…it’s just all smiles after these games and everything is so positive. I was worried about that coming into this, just knowing how competitive sports can get, and it was a big surprise with just how positive this whole thing is,” Jefferson said.
Aside from making connections on the court, Jefferson is also happy to see his Unified Athletes building relationships with their Partners off the court as well.
“This is all about building relationships and including people. So many of our athletes wouldn’t usually have the opportunity to interact with their partners on a daily basis. This is opening the door for all of our students, no matter who they are, to really connect with one another. Our athletes and partners are an example of what it means to really just be good to one another and to really approach every person with kindness and respect,” Jefferson said.
Milford’s team is made up of senior Jessica Donovan, junior Josh Ennis, senior Michael Green, freshman Justin Haggerty, senior Mariah Hartzell, sophomore Shikeim Houchens, sophomore Trevarez Lamb, senior Harley Lardner, senior Brianna Reynolds, senior Silvara Santiago, sophomore Taniyah Stevens, junior Isais Tilghman, and sophomore Brittney Walls.
The Unified Bucs are currently sitting at 2-1 on the season, and their next game is at home against Cape Henlopen on Thursday, February 7 at 4:00 PM.
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