One by one, each of the eight teams participating in the unified basketball jamboree ran through the gymnasiums double-doors of Sandwich High School as they were announced over the PA system to a rousing round of applause from the spectators lining the gymnasium walls.
The host team, a Riverview/Trinity Christian co-op, was the first to be introduced and two teammates led the group on to the court with one hand each on a ceremonial, plastic torch like the Olympics opening ceremonies.
The other seven schools—Bourne, Fairhaven, Old Rochester, Middleboro, Hingham, Plymouth North and Plymouth South—followed suit before the round-robin jamboree began. It was one of nine unified basketball jamborees in the state as the Special Olympics unified sports programs have seen rapid growth recently, jumping from 26 unified teams in the state to more than 80 currently.
Before the games were tipped off, a player from the Hingham team took to the mic and recited the Special Olympic’s athlete oath, “Let me win, but if I cannot, let me be brave in the attempt.” A coach from Old Rochester then recited the coaches’ oath, “In the name of all coaches, I promise that we shall take part in these Special Olympics Games, respecting and abiding by the rules which govern them, in the true spirit of sportsmanship, for the glory of sport and the honor of our team.”
And although Sandwich High School does not have a unified basketball, it has a track and field team in the spring, and volunteers from the student-body helped with the event. Take volleyball player Evelyn Orman, who sang the national anthem, as an example or basketball players JP Downes and Chris Cronin’s refereeing all the games, to name a few.
Riverview/Trinity Christian cruised against Plymouth North in the first match-up of teams, winning 32-8. Playing two 15-minute halves, each team subbed in new players in waves, assuring playing time was evenly distributed. Although lighthearted in nature, the Riverview/Trinity team provided many highlights as players emphatically pumped their fists on the way up the court after a made basket. Players found the lost art of the mid-range jumper, showed hustle by diving for loose balls and following up missed shots with offensive rebounds.
The Bourne team also won its first game, playing against Hingham in a high-scoring affair, 44-32. Guard John Kahian provided the razzle-dazzle moves for the Canalmen while forward Ethan Cryan provided the muscle down on the low post with a few makes just under the hoop. Erika Mann took to her spot along the right wing and set up shop there for the duration of the game, hitting a few shots from her sweet spot on the court.
According to the state’s Special Olympics page, unified sports bring together athletes with and without intellectual disabilities to train and compete on the same team. Participants improve their physical fitness, sharpen their skills and learn acceptance and inclusion while participating in unified sports. A primary goal of unified sports is to equalize the ability level of Special Olympics athletes with their partners and to promote inclusion through team practice and competition.