Unified basketball takes home win against Puyallup
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The Emerald Ridge unified basketball team members and peer partners flooded the gym on March 7th for Pack the Gym Night. Followed by friends, family, and fellow classmates, the game began with ER teacher, Jesse Kase, announcing the names and numbers of each player. After cheering on their competitors from Puyallup High School, the ER team was able to score the first point, and eventually took home the win.
“It’s all about inclusion and being part of a group,” staff member Stacey Jackson said, stressing the importance of what the game is really about.
With the game coming close in the last quarter, ER pulled through with a score of 52 to 43. Despite their loss, PHS played a strong game and showed their admirable sportsmanship as they shook hands and said their congratulations. Though there is no hard feelings, they promised an even tougher came next week, as the next Pack the Gym night will be held in the PHS gym at 6:30 on Monday, March 13th.
In addition to students from both high schools showing their support, members of the Emerald Ridge DECA program were running the concessions stand just outside the gym. Students worked throughout the game to provide drinks and snacks to those in attendance. Near the concessions stand, a table taking donations was set up to take donations to purchase new uniforms for the team.
The diversity among the players is completely unique. Each students has their own set of skills, limitations, and individual personalities that allow them to work well together with their peer partners. Three of the students are currently in wheelchairs and need assistance from their partners to take part in the game, but this does not deter them from enjoying what they do.
While many of the Special Education students cannot verbally answer for themselves, staff member Liz Westerfield is able to communicate what they wanted to say. Westerfield shares that team member Luke Wilson is currently in a chair and has help from his peers to hold the basketball, and gladly accepts the help they give him. Wilson is known to appreciate the attention, and has formed many bonds with teammates.
Westerfield also shared that some students, such as Alicia Harmon-Tunstall, do not particularly enjoy the game, but are just satisfied with making friends in such a positive atmosphere. On the other hand, Mikayla Fernandez has gotten rather competitive over the last three years she has participated in unified sports. She is very shy off the court, but remains a star player.
With over around 9 peer partners volunteering on a regular basis, and an almost equal number of Special Education students to match, the team has been successful on and off the court. The students appreciate their time together and have made many friendships over the course of their seasons. The energetic, positive environment is able to bring together Emerald Ridge as a community despite any limitations and differences.
“[This program] opens up an awareness that we are all united. We may have physical differences and we may have mental differences, but we’re all together,” Special Education teacher Brenda Schrader said.