United in Basketball
Special Olympics Unified Sports® is a powerful force – and it’s been getting lots of attention lately: from an insightful feature in The New York Times to a brand new spotlight during the 2012 NBA All-Star Weekend.
In Unified Sports, people with and without intellectual disabilities are teamed together – in tennis, soccer, ice skating and just about any sport you’d like. This season, unified basketball has been an especially big hit, showcasing the talents of athletes with disabilities and bringing together people and communities in unexpected ways.
Friends of All Abilities
On the high school level, this can have a huge impact. The NY Times reports that “unified teams are upending high school’s archetypal and often cruel social order.” Typical students get to know students with disabilities in a whole new way – through sports – and soon they’re friends, greeting one another, high-fiving in the hallways, and basking in a new feeling of acceptance and unity.
One high school principal admits he was surprised by the huge difference Unified Sports has made in the lives of everyone, including students with disabilities. “Unified has transformed the culture of this school,” he said. “It was almost as if these kids weren’t noticed before we began doing this. I don’t think anyone realized how powerful they [Unified Sports] are.”
Unified Sports programs are now in more than 2,000 schools in over 42 states. Together, students finding new ways to become friends, gain skills and confidence, and reverse bullying both in and out of school.
Showing the World
But it’s not just teens who are experiencing the power of Unified Sports. This year marked the first Special Olympics NBA Cares Unity Sports basketball game, teaming up NBA legends and WNBA pros with 12 Special Olympics athletes during the NBA All-Star Weekend. This was an exciting public demonstration of the unifying power of sports – and an important way to showcase the basketball talents of Special Olympics athletes.
The East team, coached by the Charlotte Bobcats’ Kemba Walker, included NBA legends Dikembe Mutombo and Sam Perkins, along with WNBA stars Lindsey Harding and Ruth Riley and Special Olympics athletes from Florida, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Toronto, Canada. The West team, coached by the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Derrick Williams, featured NBA legends Chris Mullin and Clyde Drexler, and the WNBA’s Sophia Young and Marie Ferdinand-Harris, alongside six Special Olympics athletes from Colorado, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Utah.
It was a hard-fought game that went down to the wire: when athlete Andre Larry of the East team sunk a 3-pointer with just 40 seconds left to even the score. Despite a last-second attempt by the West squad to pull ahead, the game ended in a 57-57 tie. What better way to showcase unity?
“This game proved that Special Olympics is about real sports,” said NBA legend Sam Perkins and Special Olympics International Board Member. “Our athletes should never be looked down upon. We should all look up to Special Olympics athletes and aspire to carry their spirit of determination."
Special Olympics athlete Jennifer Wardlow says the Special Olympics players gave the NBA and WNBA players -- and their fans -- something to think about. “We just made those NBA players say ‘whoa’, look at their skills. People with intellectual disabilities, we can work, we can play basketball – we can do anything."
Unified Sports celebrate the fact that the talents and gifts we share are far more important than our differences. It’s amazing what sports can do!