Lightridge Sports Scores
  • May 16 / Varsity Girls TennisLightridge - 1, Riverside - 5
  • May 16 / Varsity Girls SoccerLightridge - 3, Briar Woods - 4
  • May 16 / Varsity BaseballLightridge - 13, Riverside - 1
  • May 16 / Varsity SoftballLightridge - 3, Independence - 5
  • May 15 / Varsity Girls LacrosseLightridge - 12, Independence - 7
  • May 15 / Varsity Boys LacrosseLightridge - 5, Stone Bridge - 13
  • May 13 / Varsity Boys TennisLightridge - 3, Independence - 5
  • May 13 / Varsity Boys SoccerLightridge - 1, Stone Bridge - 2
  • May 9 / JV Boys SoccerLightridge - 1, Potomac Falls - 0
  • May 9 / JV Girls LacrosseLightridge - 3, Potomac Falls - 1

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“Everyone gets a chance to shoot the ball.”

An inside look at the Unified team
Varsity player Mikayla Bowe gets ready to take a shot against Unifieds Kwabena Owusu,  and Nana Ayirebi-Akomeah.
Mahee Parekh
Varsity player Mikayla Bowe gets ready to take a shot against Unified’s Kwabena Owusu, and Nana Ayirebi-Akomeah.

The screech of sneakers and the rhythmic thump of the ball fills the gym. The crowd holds their breath in anticipation as the final seconds of the basketball game between Lightridge Unified and the Lightridge Girls Varsity Basketball team tick off the clock. The final buzzer sounds and the crowd erupts in joy with Unified coming out on top with a score of 78-74.

Unified, a branch of Special Olympics, is a program that seeks to provide athletic opportunities to exceptional education students. It pairs them with general education students and allows them the chance to play a multitude of sports. The program is currently focused on basketball, with plans to expand in the spring to track and field, and possibly soccer.

While sports are often only seen as a competitive activity, Unified’s focus lies not only on a typical sports team’s desire to win, but also on promoting inclusivity.

“You don’t even have to be an athlete as long as you enjoy playing sports and as long as you are open to meeting people who are differently abled…and collaborating with them,” said Nayeli Garcia-Selvaraj, Unified sponsor and counselor at Lightridge. “We want you there.”

As a result of the inclusive nature of the program, a multitude of friendships have blossomed between exceptional and general education students.

“We always have a good bond,” said senior and Unified team member Nana Ayirebi-Akomeah of his general education teammates.

On top of the friendships made within the team, the program sticks strong to its goal of inclusivity by accommodating the sport to meet every member’s needs.

“If a student gets around on a wheelchair we make it happen so that they are able to play basketball,” said Selvaraj. “Some students have devices so that they can communicate. We make sure that they are able to communicate with others while playing.”

Last year, the program was in danger of shutting down when the lead sponsor took a position at another school. Selvaraj and Joseph Re stepped up to become this year’s sponsors. While at Buffalo Trail Elementary School, Selvaraj had previous experience with Best Buddies, a nationwide program that aims to create friendships between individuals with different mental abilities. There she witnessed the interconnectedness between different students with different skill sets and saw how they were playing together, having lunch together and forming friendships they might not have normally made.

Re, who teaches science and is the head JV football coach, had initially not considered becoming a sponsor, but he was soon persuaded by two general education Unified members, senior Morgan Holincheck and junior Avery Speier.

Although Re and Selvaraj are the main sponsors of the program, Selvaraj said that “the students do a big chunk of it.”

Ava Samson cheers as Keira Stafford takes a shot. (Mahee Parekh )

Students who have been a part of the program for several years have become the student leaders and take charge of creating clusters of students-all with different abilities- to play and have fun together.

Holincheck, for example, doesn’t have an official role, but helps with planning games and organizing practices.

“I reach out to other schools and see if they have any games available,” said Holincheck, “and make sure that all the exceptional ed students know that we have practices every Wednesday and that they come to the club.”

Every yellow club day the members of the team gather to practice, yet because the members want to spend more time with each other, the team has also been meeting every Wednesday morning at 8:30 am. The additional time not only makes the friendships stronger but also improves their skill level, which is a big motivator.

“They start improving,” said Holincheck, “and they are motivated to come to practice and keep practicing.”

Unified had their first game on February 3, and through a collaborative effort with the girls varsity team, they emerged victorious.

“I really enjoyed working with the Unified team,” said sophomore varsity player Jalyn Childress. “It was great being with them, helping them win, and seeing them so excited. It was fun.”

“From a basketball point of view we have some things to work on,” said Re “but I’m still proud of the effort put in by both the exceptional kids and the gen ed kids.”

Ayirebi-Akomeah felt invigorated by the win, and said that people could try to take away his victory but that was “not gonna happen.”

Holincheck, reflecting on the game, felt good about what the Unified team and the varsity girls basketball team had accomplished together, and summed up the goal of the program.

“We made sure everyone got a chance to shoot the ball.”

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About the Contributor
Aziza Khikmatillaeva
Aziza is a junior. This is her first year on the Lightridge News staff.

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