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Unified basketball unifies schools

By Zachary Lipfield, student writer; photos courtesy of Kira Zizzo

Photo of Rock Canyon Unified Basketball

For the first time in Rock Canyon High School’s unified basketball program history, the school held its basketball game during school hours, allowing the entire student body to participate. Special Olympics Unified Sports is an adaptive sports program that allows people with disabilities to participate in sports using a system that puts all athletes competing on an even playing field, while teaching lessons in teamwork and leadership and building character.

Rock Canyon High School (RCHS) held a Unified Sports basketball game in January between the RCHS Jaguars and the Rocky Heights Middle School (RHMS) Nighthawks. Nearly 2,000 spectators packed the stands. After every bucket, the crowd roared, bringing smiles to the faces of every player on the court. The noise was so loud that some players decided to wear headphones. The game was during seminar, a study hall-like class that all students have built into their schedule. This allowed many students the opportunity to support the Special Olympics Unified Sports (SOUS) basketball players.

“We had this game to build awareness and bring passion to the special needs kids who have skill on the basketball court,” said Debbie Rochau, a staff member and coach of the unified team at RCHS.

Many students and parents showed up to watch the Jaguars take on the Nighthawks. Holding the game between the middle and high school showed the future Jaguars what high school is all about – supporting your peers. The game demonstrated the support that RCHS students give to each other.

“The game was heartwarming and it made me feel good to support this cause,” said Josh Woodrow, a RCHS student.

The game gave every player the opportunity to take multiple shots at the hoop. The kids’ faces lit up when they scored a basket. Signs and fatheads – giant photos of a player’s face – could be seen waving among the fans in the stands.

Rochau has worked with special needs kids for 10 years and she has helped RCHS in the past year to make the SOUS team feel special.

SOUS is an inclusive sports program for athletes with special needs. The program joins people with and without disabilities on the same team. According to the Unified Sports website, it was inspired by a simple principle: “Training together and playing together is a quick path to friendship and understanding.

See related story: Teachers take the plunge for special athletes

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