East Rockaway Junior-Senior High School’s unified basketball team continues to inspire players with and without intellectual disabilities.
“It’s definitely different,” said senior Peter Wilson. “But you get to see the best qualities of everyone on the team and you bond with people you normally wouldn’t bond with.”
Unified basketball was formed by the New York State Public High School Athletic Association and Special Olympics New York. The goal is to promote social inclusion through shared sports training and competition experiences.
Wilson said he found out about the team while he was in phys. ed. class three years ago and decided to try it. He said he enjoyed his first game and has decided to continue to play on the team ever since. “It’s fun just to get out there and play,” he said.
The East Rockaway team did just that on May 2, when it took on a unified basketball team from Long Beach. Though the Rocks lost, 41-34, they put up a strong effort.
According to Cheri Poland, one of the team’s coaches, a representative from the New York State Public School Activities Association spoke to East Rockaway district officials about the league and provided a grant to the high school to fund a team for its first year in 2016. Last year the district began funding the team in its budget. “It’s part of our athletic program,” Poland said.
In Nassau County, there are two conferences for the unified basketball league, dividing the teams by north and south. Each team plays six regular season games, and then if they perform well, they advance to the playoffs.
“It’s really a great opportunity for these students,” Poland said. “It gives them an opportunity to participate in a sport that’s competitive.”
The Rocks have played to a 2-2 record so far this season. East Rockaway High School will play host to a playoff game on May 23 at 4:30 p.m. The teams are still yet to be determined.