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The student news site of Londonderry High School

Lancer Spirit Online

The student news site of Londonderry High School

Lancer Spirit Online

Unified sports are a place of inclusivity, not competitiveness

Unified sports are meant to ensure that everyone, regardless of disability, has a place in sports. It is not a place to show off.
“These programs help improve the culture of schools by pairing students with and without disabilities, which allows all participants to build friendships that transcend on-court competitions.” – Dr. Steve Amaro, CMAA, and Maureen Mattson in an article on National Federation of State High School Associations. Image created in Canva by Arianna E. Conomacos

The purpose of unified sports is to create a team where friendships between all students will be made.

The team is made up of helpers (individuals who don’t participate in special ed programs at school) and athletes. The official definition of an athlete is a student with intellectual disabilities who typically receives Special Education services, as verified by the site administrator. Although it can be hard to determine which students qualify as athletes, we need to keep the main goal of having fun in mind while choosing each player’s role.

Everyone is able to contribute to the game in different ways. The helpers can contribute to the game in many ways, such as dribbling the ball up the court, passing the ball to an open athlete, or cheering on the team from the bench. Scoring points is to be done solely by the athletes, with the helpers guiding them along the way. The goal of this league is not to play your ‘best’ player the whole time, but rather give all players equal time to shine. Although it feels good to win, it does not feel good to steal the ball from athletes who are just there to have fun.

After 8 years of playing competitive basketball, I started to feel the games were getting a little too competitive. At the end of my 8th grade season, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue playing in high school. But after watching a unified game, I realized that was what I wanted to do instead. I ended up switching to unified basketball my freshman year, which changed my perspective of the game entirely. While playing competitively, I thought winning the championship trophy was the best feeling ever. But unified basketball has taught me that winning is not everything.  Seeing an athlete score a basket gives me more joy than scoring myself. 

Some of these athletes have never been on a team before. They are just happy to be there, and to have a group of friends to play with. The excitement of an athlete scoring a basket and running down the court with the biggest smile on their face will make anyone happy. Coaches also need to remember that the point of unified is to include everyone equally. Just because a student technically meets the qualifications of an athlete, doesn’t always mean they should be able to score. Coaches have the power to put players in, and take them out of the game at certain times.

Even if they have an IEP, a student who has played on a regular JV or varsity team before, should not be showing off against unified athletes who are playing for the first time. They can use their skills as helpers, but the spotlight should be reserved for the athletes. Don’t let your competitiveness get in the way of having fun. Instead treat Unified as the opportunity it is for people from all levels to be able to learn and grow together as they enjoy a sport that all of them love.

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    Barbara Mee
    Jun 5, 2024 at 9:51 am

    Fabulous article and point of view!!