Unified Basketball Dunks

Patrick Babbitt, Sports Editor

Kristi Clave, The Maple Road Disabilities teacher and also a director of West Milford Special Olympics dreamed of unified sports for many years. She always wanted to make this a program at West Milford High School. That dream was made possible in February, as The West Milford Unified Basketball team was able to compete against Wayne Hills and Wayne Valley on February 27th. 

Unified sports is when athletes with disabilities and regular athletes come together, and form a team. The unified sports team will face other teams from different towns which also consist of athletes of kids with and without disabilities. Aside from West Milford unified bowling, unified basketball was the first team which brought together kids with and without disabilities.

After unified sports was finally approved at West Milford, Maple Road teacher Kristi Clave assembled a team of combined athletes and kids with disabilities for the first ever West Milford Unified Basketball team. Since coach Clave knew little about basketball, she asked her friend high school gym teacher Nicole Gwinnett to help her out. Another person who gave her help was Beth Schaeffer, who is also a teacher at Maple Road. 

The team was able to have three practices at Macopin in which they were able to learn basketball, and come up with a strategy to defeat Wayne Hills and Wayne Valley. Some of the skills incorporated in the practices were passing, shooting, defense, and lots and lots of knockout. 

The following students which were able to make up the team, which included Patrick Babbitt, Matt Burlum, Amaya Falby, Amanda Finke, Kara Gaddish, Trinity Gossett, Kallie Moore, Asa Nieshalla, Kate O’Neil, Dillon Orsino, Joe Palmentari, Ashley Pena, Deron Ricker, Taylor Sampson, Kevin Schaffer, Phil Strinia, Ralphie Turre, Sasha Villanueva, Abby Weiss, and Ben Weiss. All of the athletes either do sports at the school, or are part of special olympics themselves. Overall, with tons of athletes apart from the team, the team is destined for success. 

With three practices under their belt, and lots of hard work, the team was excited for Thursday, February 27th, as it would be their first ever bit of competition. Coach Clave was very nervous, as this was the first true test for the unified basketball team, as they would travel to Wayne Valley high school to compete against Wayne Hills for two quarters, and then Wayne Valley for two quarters. 

The team would sadly end up losing both games, as they lost 25-14 against Wayne Hills, and 18-15 against Wayne Valley. Still, with only three practices, the team was able to succeed a lot. Although the scoreboard wasn’t the outcome they wanted, it was a huge day for success, as everyone on the court seemed to be hitting shots, passing the ball well, grabbing tons of rebounds, and playing excellent defense. Coach Clave and Gwinnett agreed that there were tons of heartwarming moments and tears, such as when Ben Weiss scored his basket. 

There were smiles all around, and everyone was having so much fun even with the loss. There were tons of high fives, as everyone was encouraging one another with high fives, and also words of motivation. 

Overall, unified basketball was very successful, as this is something which will stay at West Milford High School for a while, as everyone seemed to be having fun, and wish that this could continue for longer.