The Unified Basketball program was re-energized this year at Plainville High School, ending the season on a high note at a tournament held at New Britain High School in March.
According to coach and Plainville High School Faculty member Cindy Birdsall, participation in the Unified Basketball program began in the 1990s as collaboration with what was then known as the "Best Buddies" program at the high school that paired special needs students with role model peers at school. Matt Gingras was one of the players on the original Plainville High School Unified Team, and returned this year to serve as an Assistant Coach to Birdsall. "Matt was a point guard on the original team and played with us for three years. He is an asset to our team and has been a phenomenal support all the way around," said Birdsall. In addition, Gingras works in the school's cafeteria, and serves as a manager to the football, basketball and baseball teams at Plainville High School.
Over the years, numbers dwindled and the high school's Unified team had not been active until this year, when Birdsall once again partnered with high school special education teacher Denise Feltz, and district school psychologist Jeri Lynn Turkowitz. The group recruited students with special needs along with role model students from the schoolâ€™s Student Athlete Leadership Team, and the result was impressive. The students came together and bonded immediately throughout the season, which ran December through March. "At the twice a week practices the team really made significant strides and worked together so well â€" it was amazing to see the friendships and sportsmanship from the group," added Birdsall. "This year was really about getting our feet wet again with participating in the program, and it couldn't have gone any better - I canâ€™t imagine what the future will bring."
The culmination of the season was playing in the tournament held in March. "It was so impressive to watch the students with special needs play during the tournament games. The role model students had done such a great job teaching the skills during the practices and helped to be sure that the skills were incorporated into the game. They encouraged the students to use the skills while providing feedback and positive comments to keep them motivated. When a basket was made, everyone on the team was so excited. It was a great experience for the students with special needs, the role model students and the coaches. We look forward to participating next year," said Turkowitz.
At the end of the season, the team came together for a pizza party to celebrate their successes. When asked about their participation in the program, the high school students who volunteered to assist all agreed that it was a very positive experience. "It was a really great experience to see all the athletes working together â€" I will definitely participate once again next year," commented 10th grader Myranda LaPira. "I enjoyed it so much. It was nice to see how happy the players were, especially when they got their medals at the tournament â€"that was awesome," noted sophomore Joey Chacho. Eleventh grader Sarah Abdelsame added, "I want to be a special education teacher and really enjoyed interacting with the players."
Plans are underway for next season, including a number of fundraisers to help defer the cost of the program, including participation in a local "Penguin Plunge." Last year Birdsall and high school principal Steve LePage participated in a Penguin Plunge event to raise money for the program. Birdsall also applied for and received a grant through the Connecticut Association of Schools.
"The inspiration received from the students' camaraderie, teamwork, and positive relationships gave me greater chills than the frigid Penguin Plunge. Coaches Birdsall and Assistant Coach Gingras did an exceptional job putting this all together and we appreciate the support and assistance from Mrs. Feltz and Ms. Turkowitz. We also appreciate all the support provided by the Connecticut Association of Schools," said Plainville High School Principal, Steven LePage.
-Posted on May 22, 2014 at 01:42 PM
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