Camaraderie and excitement filled the gym at Vista Ridge High School April 24 for the Unified basketball game against the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office. Unified basketball brings together students with and without disabilities on the same athletic team, and promotes inclusion through sports.
“At Vista Ridge, we try to incorporate inclusion in everything we do,” shared Diane Dumas, special education teacher. Just recently, the school was recognized as a Special Olympics Unified Champion School for building a community for everyone through activities that affect school-wide change.
Students, band members and cheerleaders all attended the game to root for their school’s Unified Team, but support began well before the event.
Junior Isaiah Watkins, along with the Advanced Leadership Club, helped organize a campaign the week prior to generate awareness for students with disabilities. The leadership club members gave away bracelets and t-shirts to promote inclusion. “Awareness is key to it all,” shared Watkins.
The team’s players believe building relationships is a key component of the Unified games. “Being on the Unified Team is an opportunity to create a smile,” commented Mark King, senior. “It’s good to know I can help someone else.”
Sergeant Travis Kitowski with the EPCSO shared similar sentiments. “The sheriff’s office is really big on community support,” he stated. “It’s fun for us to get involved as much as we can.” This was the second year in a row the officers took on the challenge of playing the VRHS Unified Team.
Although the Unified games are about the importance of promoting inclusion of all students, the team showed up prepared to play hard. “I’m going to do my best,” shared Andrew Bonser, junior on the team. “It helps we have a secret weapon that is good at stealing the ball.”
The spirit of the team aided them well as the VRHS Unified Team rolled to a victory with a score of 46-22.