BOTWOOD, N.L. – Special Olympic athletes and their peers teamed up to compete in an inclusive basketball competition.
“It’s so cool seeing an atmosphere where everyone is so positive and so excited for each other,” said Grade 12 Leo Burke Academy partnered student Tori Burt. “I just wanted to be involved in this great opportunity for everybody to come together and have a good time playing sports.”
Botwood Collegiate hosted the 2018 Unified Sport School Basketball Championships Central Region on June 8, which saw teams comprised of both Special Olympic athletes and partnered students compete. The day kicked off with an opening ceremonies that included a singing of the national anthem by Botwood Collegiate student and Special Olympic athlete Jaiden Hailes, which was followed up by a skills competition before round robin play. Exploits Valley High (EVH), Leo Burke Academy (LBA), and two teams from Botwood Collegiate took part in the competition.
“This is an area where they can all come together, where everybody is the same,” Burt said. “Everybody is just so positive, the smiles on their faces literally almost makes you want to cry. Not sad, but happy, because this is a big opportunity. It’s super important for everyone to be in this atmosphere.”
Burt said while schools can always improve, they are becoming more inclusive, and added that students cheered her team on as they walked out.
“Hosting an event like this is a big move for schools in general being more inclusive,” she said.
Christina Brace, instructional resource teacher at Botwood Collegiate, said there was roughly 30 students, both Special Olympic athletes and partnered students, involved in the competition from her school.
“It’s a great opportunity for them to play sports together, and increases inclusion,” she said.
Brace said Unified Sport is a great chance for Special Olympic athletes to be involved with their peers. She added that partnered students, while competing alongside the Special Olympic athletes, often take on a mentor or leadership role.
“We were pleasantly surprised with the amount of people that wanted to be involved,” Brace said. “We have a large group, and there was a lot of students wanting part of it.”
In the end, EVH claimed first place, LBA second, and Botwood Collegiate third and fourth.
Brace noted that perhaps next year the tournament would have to be expanded.
“The empathy and united feel in this building is wonderful,” she said.