The newest sport at Thornton Academy is perhaps its most special. Unified Basketball pairs athletes (students with disabilities) with partners (students from the rest of the student body). Together they make a team, both on and off the court.
The 2018 Unified Basketball team and cheerleaders pose with Troy the Trojan after one of their games.
Special Education teacher Kristin Smythe started Thornton Academy’s team in 2017. Supported by the school’s administration and other staff members, Smythe and assistant coach Kristy Kendrick recruited athletes and partners to form the team.
During the games, each team has three athletes and two partners on the court at all times, so athletes and partners get to know each other and how to work together.
For many of the athletes, being a part of this team and being recognized for successes has been a life-changing experience. Individuals that were once shy, now are more outgoing and are taking a leadership role in their classes.
“They’re included when they’ve never had a chance to be included before,” said Smythe.
Playing on the Unified Basketball team is also a great experience for the partners. This year, more partners applied than the number of available spots.
“[Unified Basketball] has opened the door to make them ambassadors for change,” Kendrick said about the role of the partners.
Wyatt LeBlanc ’18 says that participating in Unified Basketball has been one of the best decisions he has made while at Thornton Academy.
“Not only are you helping out and giving back to the community, but you can see how much it means to the players and their families, and how much they love to play and how happy they are that they get the chance to play for Thornton Academy in front of fans. It does not matter if we win some games like we did this year, or lose every game like we did last year, everyone knows that it's not about that. It is about having fun and just enjoying the time that you're out there helping,” said LeBlanc.
There is even a cheerleading squad that comes to all the games and practices. The cheerleaders want to encourage both the athletes and the partners. Junior Megan Cairns has made a special connection with one of the athletes.
“I do unified because all students should have access to a sport they can play. When I see the player athletes make a basket their face makes my day. I made a very strong connection with one student, and it has inspired me to work with kids with special needs,” Cairns said.
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