The Barrington High School unified basketball team is about a lot more than winning and losing.
Just look at last Wednesday.
The team captured its second victory of the season, a come-from-behind 36-31 win over Mt. Hope. Few seated inside the school gymnasium, however, paid much attention to the scoreboard.
Instead, they spent the afternoon enthusiastically cheering for student-athletes such as Sidney Skurkovich, who nailed a corner jump shot from just inside the three point line, and Elijah Porter, who netted a nifty lay-up, and Peter Lyons, who led his team with 14 points. They cheered for all the other athletes who sprinted up and down the hardwood floor.
“It really isn’t about winning the games” said head coach Brian DeLaire.
They keep score at unified basketball games but it’s not about who’s ahead at the final buzzer. It’s about inclusion and learning from one another on and off the court. It’s about creating friendships through sports. It’s about school spirit and acceptance.
“It’s about including all the players, letting each player have that moment in the sun,” Mr. DeLaire added.
The unified basketball team is a mix of athletes — some students with disabilities and others without. Boys and girls from all high school grades play for the team. Some joined the team this year while others are veteran unified members.
Josh Linakis scored four points last Wednesday, and if you ask him, he’ll tell you he’s become a team leader. He’s enjoying his second year at guard, and though he spent his first two seasons at forward, Josh doesn’t have a preference where he plays. He said playing for the team is about having fun and being active with other people.
He also has a few regular tips for his teammates.
“They need to take their time while shooting,” he said.
“And taking free throws, too.”
Mr. DeLaire has coached the team since its inception. He’s assisted by Amy Benevides, an adaptive physical education teacher at the high school who works with athletes throughout the week on drills, strength and conditioning.
“She’s a God-send to these kids,” Mr. DeLaire said of Ms. Benevides.
Mary Kate Rizutto also coaches the team. A veteran of both the high school girls’ and unified basketball programs, she spent the minutes before Wednesday’s game lining up players lay-up and shooting drills.
Emily Schwartz is a junior in her third year as a team partner. She said the unified basketball team is a varsity sport like any other at the school and that’s exactly how it’s treated.
She also said the program is aimed at bolstering the sense of school involvement for everyone on the team and she has learned a lot over the last three years.
“Everything isn’t about being competitive,” she said.
“It’s about having fun.”
Barrington High School was one of eight initial schools to field a unified team when the program kicked off in Rhode Island in 2010. Since then, the program has grown every single year. The unified volleyball program will enter its fourth season this fall while the unified basketball program expanded to the middle school level last year, where Barrington once again hosted a pilot team.
Jerry Dandeneau is Project Unify Coordinator with Special Olympics Rhode Island. He said 30 high schools in Rhode Island currently have unified basketball teams, five more than last year.
Emily has recognized the expansion of the program.
“It’s growing dramatically every year,” she said.
Mr. Dandeneau said adding schools isn’t simply about adding teams but making sure each site is promoting inclusion and incorporating the program as part of school culture.
He also said partners benefit from the teams as much as athletes.
“It’s a life lesson,” Mr. Dandeneau said. “They’re picking up life skills, learning to be respectful of other people.”
In the future, Mr. Dandeneau said the goal is to continue expansion of the program possibly offering a winter sport or junior varsity teams.
The high school unified team plays again on Wednesday, April 3 at Middletown.