Unified Sports® basketball game takes place in Antigonish

SAERC and Dr. J.H. Gillis Regional High School Student Athletes are seen here along with school staff as well as Strait regional school board staff and board members.

ANTIGONISH: Forty-four Grade 9 to 12 students from SAERC in Port Hawkesbury and Dr. J.H. Gillis Regional High School in Antigonish had the exciting opportunity to participate in a first for the Strait Regional School Board – a Unified Sports® basketball game.

The game was hosted by Dr. J.H. Gillis Regional High School on Friday morning, December 15.

Unified Sports® is a program through Special Olympics that supports an increase in physical activity for all participants and provides students of varying abilities an opportunity to experience team sports. Unified Sports® promotes acceptance, respect and human dignity for all students and social inclusion through shared sports training and competition experiences.

The program is inspired by a simple principle: training together and playing together is a quick path to friendship and understanding. As the Special Olympics website states, Unified Sports® is built upon the premise that in order to have the greatest impact the change process needs to start with youth.

Under the leadership of Beth MacDonald, Youth Services Facilitator Teacher at SAERC, and Jami Lawlor-MacInnis, Physical Education/Fitness Leadership Teacher, and Joan Conrad, Youth Services Facilitator, at Dr. J.H. Gillis Regional High School, this exceptional learning opportunity became a reality for students.

MacDonald, Conrad and Lawlor invited interested students to join their school-based team. Once the teams were formed, they attended weekly practices held at lunch time. The practices started with icebreaker activities to determine each student’s skill level. The goal of the ice breaker activities was for socialization purposes.

Students got to know each other’s names by coming together in a circle with a passing drill. From here, the student leaders explained the skills for the practice (dribbling, passing, shooting) and organized the students into groups. In the last half of the practice, students took part in a team-based scrimmage. Adapted basketball nets were used to accommodate all student ability levels. As the students participated and learned from one another, there was music playing and lots of smiling faces and cheering taking place!!

“Our Unified basketball program has created meaningful opportunities for all students to learn skills, build friendships and feel included. The overall goal of our program is to celebrate diversity through sport within our school community,” said MacDonald.

Strait Regional School Board Director of Programs and Student Services, Sharon MacCuspic, commended the student athletes for their participation and the staff involved in organizing the event.

“Thank you to all students for taking part in this impressive event and for the leadership provided by our staff. I know the experience will leave an indelible impact on us all,” said MacCuspic. “Inclusive school-based sports encourages broader student engagement and exposure to team sport that otherwise may not have been available. The involvement of student leaders within the schools breaks down stereotypes and promotes acceptance, respect and inclusion of all students in the school community.”

Sincere thanks is also extended to Special Olympics for providing organizational support as well as student uniforms and t-shirts for the big game.

Following the game, the student athletes, their parents/guardians, along with school staff and some School Board staff and Board Members had the pleasure of attending a social and congratulating the students on their impressive efforts.

The overall goals of this initiative include:
More students with intellectual disabilities are participating in physical activity;
More students with and without intellectual disabilities are playing sports together;
Students without disabilities hold more positive attitudes towards their peers with intellectual disabilities;
School communities of acceptance where students with intellectual disabilities feel welcome and are routinely included in and feel part of all school activities, opportunities and functions;
Perception of Special Olympics as a school and community partner that offers programming that benefits all students;
Creating a new generation of youth leaders.
For more information, please refer to the Special Olympics website at http://www.playunified.org/.