The Unified Sports Basketball Program at Plainville High School continues to build momentum after becoming re-energized in 2014 following a decade long hiatus, while this year, the elementary schools in Plainville will also launch a Unified Sports program. Unified Sports seeks to join students with and without disabilities to participate in a variety of athletic events. The program began in 1992 under a partnership between the Connecticut Association of Schools and Special Olympics Connecticut to expand athletic opportunities for students of all abilities.
According to Unified Program Coach and Plainville High School Faculty Member Cindy Birdsall, participation in the Unified Basketball Program began at the high school in the 1990s as a 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 student athletes on the original Plainville High School Unified Team, and returned in 2014 to serve as an assistant coach to Birdsall. Over the years, numbers had dwindled and the high school's Unified team had not been active again until 2014, when Birdsall partnered with School Psychologist, Jeri Lynn Turkowitz. Students with special needs, along with role model students from the school's Student Athlete Leadership Team, were recruited, and the result was impressive. In 2015, the high school Unified Program expanded to include special needs students from the Middle School, along with Middle School Physical Education Teacher / Coach Amy Tennant, and that partnership continues to thrive this year. The Middle School special needs students practice with their high school special needs peers and role model students twice a week throughout the season, with extremely positive results to date. "Over the past couple of years, the Unified Program at the high school has evolved and gained more exposure. The excitement has gone beyond the basketball court, and student participants feel more connected to the whole school community," explained Birdsall. "Support for the Unified athletes has really grown and is evident in the hallways and at attendance during the games this year." Previously the Unified athletes only played games in front of their team mates and parents, but this year, they have expanded their schedule to include games against Newington and Berlin during the half time high school games, and will, once again, play at a CIAC Tournament at New Britain High School on March 9th. Because of the broader interest in the Unified Program at Plainville High school, after basketball season, the group will look into the possibility of developing a "Best Buddies" program that will focus on open gym activities and bowling for the athletes and their peer role models.
"The peer athletes are exceptional. They truly exemplify what is needed to make the program a success. They support, encourage and help teach the basketball skills. They form relationships with the students both on and off the court. It is heartwarming to watch practices and games to see these relationships grow," noted Turkowitz.
Unified sports at the elementary level are also getting a "new start" after taking a break in 2008. The elementary level program in Plainville was started in 2001 by the district's physical therapists and Turkowitz, who coached several teams of elementary level students over the years. This year, Frank T. Wheeler Elementary School Principal Andrew Batchelder has organized a Unified Sports team at Wheeler, which will include students from all three elementary schools. Support for the Unified Program at the elementary school level has been very positive. One parent shared, "We are so excited about the Unified Sports Program practices. As a parent of a special needs child, we can feel a bit left out when we see parents of "typical" kids heading off to sports practices, posting on Facebook, cheering on the sidelines about their children and sporting events, and now we too can cheer for our kids. We thank you so much for this opportunity to have a weekly sports practice. We now will be busy with after school practices where our son can participate. Hooray for Plainville including everyone in the opportunity to partake in a sport."
"We are thrilled to be starting Unified Sports in the elementary schools in Plainville," explained Assistant Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Maureen Brummett. "The program will begin on February 3. Practices will continue weekly at Wheeler through March 30. During practices, students will work together on various basketball, soccer and track and field skills in a non-competitive format. The practices culminate with athletic games where student athletes will represent Plainville Community Schools at a state-wide event that takes place in New Haven, Connecticut on April 2."
"The principles and values this program promotes, like inclusion, caring, and the understanding of difference, are exactly what we strive for through our school district’s mission to enrich EACH student’s experience. I am so proud of our students and staff for the efforts they have put into making Unified Sports a successful part of the school experience here in Plainville," noted Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Jeffrey Kitching.
-Posted on February 1, 2016 at 02:01 PM
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