New unified basketball team promotes inclusivity

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Graphic illustration by Elliu Huang

“I can’t wait for this league to grow in the upcoming years and become something that everyone wants to be a part of and go watch.” - Alyssa Eseroma, Unified Basketball mentor

Alara Dasdan and Pranav Mishra

FUHSD campuses are entering a new Unified Basketball League to give aspiring athletes in P.E. Inclusive classes the option to play competitively or recreationally in teams. Through its partnership with the Special Olympics, the program aims to involve all students, including those with developmental challenges, by accommodating their specific needs.

To accommodate every participating member of the league, rules and regulations will be adjusted according to the individual needs and abilities of the students who wish to participate. As such, the Unified Basketball League will hold both high-level and low-level games, which incorporate different levels of assistance, so that students who need more guidance can still compete fairly.

“Some of the players need guidance, and so the general education students will help facilitate the passing and make sure that everyone gets a chance to play,” said P.E. Inclusive teacher Lauren Blazek. “The general education students also help with the hype. It’s really important for them to try to get their friends to come, and to get everyone excited about the games so that people will show up and support the players.”

The program was organized through the Special Olympics, which advocates for universally inclusive sports. The introduction of the Unified Basketball League to FUHSD schools marks the newest branch of the grassroots organization, which has already brought inclusive games to the Santa Clara Unified School District.

In FUHSD, Monta Vista, Cupertino, Lynbrook and Fremont High Schools were all originally planning to participate together in the Unified Basketball League during the 2019-20 school year; however, Fremont High School was forced to drop the program due to setbacks with its administration. The program at Lynbrook will not hold interdistrict competitions yet, but many coaches are hopeful for expansion. For now, the team will be competing against Cupertino, Monta Vista, Wilcox and Santa Clara High Schools.

“We’re still in the very beginning stages, so right now, I would just feel that we’d be successful if we just had exhibitions, and then try to build a bigger program from there. I love that we’re taking the first step, and I want to take the next 20 steps,” said special education teacher Miguel Alderete.

The Unified Basketball Program at Lynbrook also aims to involve general education students as mentors and coaches to the P.E. Inclusive students. At first, this mentorship role was open to any student who wanted to volunteer, but the P.E. Department has now instituted a screening process due to the high volume of prospective mentors.

“Unified Basketball is an incredibly eye opening experience,” said mentor Alyssa Eseroma. “The atmosphere is very encouraging and friendly, which is what I love most about team sports. I can’t wait for this league to grow in the upcoming years and become something that everyone wants to be a part of and go watch. Playing alongside kids with different abilities in a team sport is very new to me, and I am glad that this opportunity has introduced me to new people. I am learning different ways to communicate with others, as well as how to be a good friend and teammate to all.”

The roles of general education students are numerous when it comes to mentoring P.E. inclusion students for Unified Basketball. Some of them will actually be directly involved in the games played, in order to make sure the match keeps on moving, and that help is always available if necessary. For every three P.E. Inclusive students, there will be two general education students available to help.

“I’ve worked with special needs students since sophomore year, so this means a lot to me,” said mentor Jonathan Leslie. “My goal for this year is to make sure that every kid feels like they are a part of something big.”

The new Unified Basketball League is expected to have a strong impact on the Lynbrook community, promoting diversity and inclusivity among students.

“Some people who are unfamiliar with different populations, a lot of the time, just see their disabilities instead of seeing what they can do,” Blazek said. “So I hope this opens the eyes of students that aren’t familiar with populations like this, and shows that we can come together as a community and give everyone the opportunity to be on the team.”

While the Unified Basketball League is only a recent development on FUHSD campuses, many are looking forward to taking part in its upcoming seasons. Students and staff can anticipate the rise of new basketball teams that promote school spirit, inclusivity and universal athleticism.