The Unified Basketball game is a symbol of inclusivity and participation for all students in the Sweetwater Union High School District. BVH’s students with special needs and some varsity basketball players competed in the second annual Unified Basketball game against Eastlake High School on Dec. 7 at Eastlake.
“Everyone’s unified, everyone’s the same. It doesn’t matter if you have a disability, you can still play with your peers that don’t have disabilities,” Baron Buddies Director Charleen Love said.
The annual adapted PE soccer tournament served as inspiration for the basketball game. SUHSD coordinator of athletics Joe Heinz pushed for unified events which have had notable success in east coast schools, according to Love. Since the soccer game receives so much attention from students, the leaders in Baron Buddies also thought it would be a good idea to branch off of its success.
“We want to start making this an annual thing, alongside the soccer game that we have every year,” senior and co-president of Baron Buddies Nicole Del Rosario said.
Both the soccer tournament and basketball game are large events. They require extensive planning and preparation in order to make sure that the event goes off without any injuries or other consequences.
“It shows both schools, Eastlake and Bonita, care about their special needs programs enough to host this big basketball game every year,” Del Rosario said.
Love helped to organized the game, as she does with most Baron Buddy events. The club at BVH is especially inclusive and the other students are very supportive of them. Bonita is one of four schools with clubs similar to Baron Buddies according to Love.
“I feel as if here the whole school is so much more supportive of our program and that’s shown through the energy that we had in our gym [last year],” Love said.
Love and the EHS coordinator decided to move the location from BVH to EHS this year. The change in location allows more students to participate in the game. Since some students can’t get permission to get out of school, this gave them the opportunity to become more involved in the community and watch the game.
“As the title implies, it’s a unified game and that’s what it does. It brings all the students together, students that maybe don’t have as many opportunities to interact with each other. This gives everyone an opportunity to feel as a part of something as everyone else,” varsity boys’ basketball coach and BVH Unified Basketball game coach Don Dumas said.
While as of right now BVH has only played against EHS, Love and Del Rosario are hoping to branch out to more schools in the future. They hope that this will allow for more students to be able to partake in future games.
“There are other schools playing each other they just put us together because of the close proximity. I’m working to see if we can play somebody else [next year],” Love said.
With the intense rivalries between high schools this is a way to ease the tensions. The game is about giving a chance for all students, on both teams, which is the opposite of what most high schools sports games are like.
“The purpose of us coming together is to support the special needs students and to make sure they have the best time they can. It is not to fuel our individual rivalry,” Del Rosario said.
The game also gets students who are not usually involved with Baron Buddies to play in the game and get to know the community. Through this game they are able to meet students with special needs and become more involved with the club.
“It was really fun. I don’t know the kids as well as other people but it’s just a fun environment. I got to watch it last year but being in it this year was a lot more fun,” senior and varsity basketball player Sage Crawford said.
The game also allows faculty members to get to know the program more. Teachers who would usually never interact with students with special needs are able to spend time together.
“Thankfully I was asked to [coach the Unified Basketball game] this year because the coach who usually does it [the Unified Basketball game] was reffing and he asked me to help out,” varsity girls basketball coach and coach of the Unified Game for EHS David Koopman said.
The game is planned to continue far into the future so that this can become a staple event. The leaders of Baron Buddies hope that their successors are able to continue the game and even branch out to other sports.
“Next year, I hope that the president keeps this going as a tradition. I also hope that they have more unified sports games because that is one aspect that really brings us together more than any regular spirit event could,” Del Rosario said.
With a more inclusive student body it creates a welcoming community for all. BVH’s Baron Buddies program plans on creating more awareness for the students with special needs through events like the Unified basketball game.
“I think it’s good for everyone involved. It’s good for the students with special needs because it makes them feel like they’re apart of something. They really are a big part of this school and it’s good for the general-ed kids to see them, because too often of times we forget about them,” Koopman said.