Students at Bellingham Public Schools have even more opportunity to play competitive team sports with the addition of Unified Basketball this winter.
Special Olympics devised the Unified Sports program as a way to bring together athletes with and without intellectual disabilities. Those with disabilities, referred to as “athletes,” play on the same team as their “partners” without disabilities. In basketball, each team plays three athletes and two partners at any given time.
Unified Sports are now available all three seasons of the school year — fall, winter and spring. Unified Bowling is offered in the fall, and Unified Soccer kicked off on April 12.
“This is kind of the dream, to be able to have one sport for every season,” said Dominique Lantagne, special-education teacher and Bellingham schools’ Special Olympics coordinator.
Bellingham, Sehome and Squalicum high schools, and Burlington-Edison High School, participated in the inaugural season of Unified Basketball. Games were close, competition was high, and good sportsmanship was always on display, Lantagne said.
Lantagne developed Bellingham’s Unified Sports program starting with soccer, now in its eighth season. Seven high schools play Unified Soccer locally, including Blaine, Ferndale, Mount Vernon and Burlington-Edison — in addition to the three Bellingham high schools. The district’s four middle schools also play Unified Soccer.
“Whatcom County looks forward to building the program and adding more teams and participants in the coming years,” Lantagne said.
The impetus behind the program is to give students with intellectual disabilities the thrill and sense of camaraderie that comes with playing organized school sports. As the Special Olympics web page for Unified Sports puts it, “Training together and playing together is a quick path to friendship and understanding. … Having sport in common is just one more way that preconceptions and false ideas are swept away.”
The local Unified Sports program has a Facebook page for those who are interested in following its progress.
Photos: Sehome and Squalicum High School Unified Basketball teams, taken at the teams’ game Feb. 15 at Options High School.
Would you like to participate in Unified Sports as a player or coach, volunteer to help at games, or just show up and be a fan? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.