By TJ Millman
Unified Basketball, a new addition to Delaware Varsity Sports, is a chance to extend the athletic experience to students that may not usually get a chance to partake. 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. This was Milford’s first year with a Unified Team, as the sport just started in Delaware, and the Bucs kicked off their first season with a 4-2 regular season and a postseason bid as well. The 2-seeded Bucs hosted number 3 seed Indian River last Wednesday, having already handed IR 2 of their 3 losses on the season. The Bucs lost the game, 39-32, but Head Coach Nick Jefferson was proud of how his team grew in just their first year.
“The biggest change that I noticed this year was our team comradery. Towards the beginning of the year, everyone was a little nervous being with each other, but by the end of the season they got closer as friends on and off the court…and that’s really what it’s all about. We love to win, but it’s so hard not to be happy for athletes on the other team as well. When their kids are hitting those big threes, it’s exciting. That’s one of the best parts of this experience. You can cheer for the other team…it’s Unified. We’re all coming together for a chance for these kids to play a competitive varsity sport, and you can’t help but smile watching them get this experience,” Jefferson said.
Despite hosting the first round tournament game, Jefferson made it clear that his game plan was not going to change. Everyone gets to play, and everyone gets the same chance to make a play.
“We knew it was a playoff game, but this is huge for our guys. Some things are just bigger than winning or losing. Seeing our athletes get a chance to play in a state tournament game, with all of these people cheering and the cameras here and everything…that’s the real win. No, there was no way that I was going to stick to just a few kids to get the win. Every athlete plays, and we win or we lose together,” Jefferson said.
The Bucs had a 21-20 lead at halftime, but in the end it was the 3-point shooting of the Indian River Unified Athletes that put the game away. The Bucs ended up losing by 7 when it came time to foul at the end of the game, but the faces of the athletes proved that the score only matters if you let it. Unified Basketball was a huge success this year, for Milford and for the state, and the future for the Bucs is bright under the direction of a coach as compassionate as Jefferson.
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