Teamwork and the spirit of what it means to #PlayUnified was on display at LAUSD’s Unified basketball North League finals last week at Polytechnic High School.
Marshall High School came out on top in the five-team field played in a pair of gyms on Feb. 22, and its athletes demonstrated the type of communication and execution that the format was designed to showcase.
Marshall outlasted host Polytechnic, Perez CTC, University High School and Widney CTC for the trophy.
Its players, both with and without intellectual disabilities, competed together in front of a Polytechnic student body that was impressed by the “unity” and the message it sends.
“It’s nice,” said Daniel Texin, a junior and member of the Associated Student Body leadership group. “I feel like people don’t really pay attention to [special education students]. It’s a friendly environment.”
Among the players with intellectual disabilities is Amanda Maeda, a senior who has been on the Marshall team since 2015. She enjoys the practices and hard work her teammates puts in.
The inclusive environment showed, as the teammates constantly looked for one another to get the best shot – regardless of which players did or didn’t have an intellectual disability.
“They put in a lot of effort,” Amanda added. “I enjoy being part of a Unified team.”
For the other players on the team, like second-year member Avina Afroz, working with special needs teammates has opened up a whole new experience.
A self-described shy person, the 15-year-old was able to step out of her comfort zone and learned the value of communication and, as a result, is “starting to get to know everyone better” on top of the connection through basketball.
“I’m going to try to continue with it throughout my entire high school life,” Avina said. “With this team, I get to find new ways to improve.”
Their coach couldn’t be more proud of the results.
Chris Cevallos, in his first year, said the support his players show to one another is a great example of why the program is important.
“This is a great way to incorporate the students with disabilities with general ed students,” he said. “To be part of one team, to work together and learn [each other’s] strengths… they can see that it’s really not that different. They have some of the same goals, some of the same expectations.
“I can see that a lot of the students are becoming aware of students with disabilities, and their general ability to play basketball and their love for the sport. In that respect, I feel that this is such a great opportunity for all the students.”
In between games, a 10-person cheerleading team made up of students with intellectual disabilities also showed off their skills.
Leilani Ayson, a third-year adaptive physical education teacher at Polytechnic, led the team onto the court and coached them through the routine.
“I think it is really important,” she said. “They feel more confident. They feel like they’re involved in the community and school environment.”
Inside the SOSC is a blog written by staff member Tracy McDannald. It is a more feature-style approach to looking inside what makes Special Olympics Southern California so unique, so special. It is meant to explore the people and their stories. One word at a time.