Today, Section III Athletics is proud to announce that we have partnered with the New York State Public High School Athletic Association and Special Olympics New York to offer a Unified basketball program to high school students in Central New York. The partnership is the first of any kind between the organizations and seeks to bring together students with and without intellectual disabilities for the opportunity to compete on one team. The partnership establishes a pilot unified basketball program in Section III where six schools will participate in practices and games spanning approximately eight weeks. The following schools began formal Unified Sports program practices with their students on April 3rd: West Genesee, Liverpool, Fayetteville-Manilus, Baldwinsville, East Syracuse-Minoa and Fulton High School. The season culminating event will be held on May 22nd at West Genesee High School.
The Unified Sports Program is a co-ed inclusive sports activity for high school students, which creates an opportunity for people without intellectual disabilities (called Partners) to join in the sports experience by playing on a team with athletes with intellectual disabilities. Not only do the players all have fun, but also attitude change and transformation happens in the hallways and on the playing court and the experiences create lifelong friendships. The program goal focuses on promoting sportsmanship and teamwork, which will, translates into social inclusion within the overall high school experience.
Before the basketball season began, before the teams were even chosen, each school formed a Youth Activation Committee and participated in a YAC Sports Summit on February 1st. The YAC consists of youth leaders with and without intellectual disabilities from participating schools who strategize and plan activities. The YAC takes responsibility for the promotion and sustainability of the inclusive sports program. Its main objective is to educate, motivate, and activate youth to become agents of change in their community and improve school climate.
Fayetteville-Manlius’s Athletic Director Scott Sugar said, “We are very fortunate to be able to offer such an outstanding program to the students of Fayetteville-Manlius. We have seen the great success unified sports have had across the country and know that our students here and across Section III will find great value in this experience”.
The concept of combining athletes with intellectual disabilities and those without was first introduced in the mid-1980s to provide another level of challenge for higher ability athletes and to promote equality and inclusion. For additional information: http://www.nysphsaa.org/Sports/Unified-Sports
“There is no greater joy than participating in a team sport and representing your school district and community,” said John Rathbun, Executive Director of Section III. “The students will get to wear their school’s uniforms, have the same warm-ups, hear their names announce during the lineups and then play in front of their friends and families. The whole idea is to offer the mainstream experience of interscholastic athletics”.