Bingham unified basketball scores—on and off the courtMar 31, 2023 12:19PM ● By Julie Slama
Bingham High’s unified team shoots for two against Brighton High at the regional unified basketball tournament. (Julie Slama/City Journals)
Next school year Bingham High senior Dylan Findlay is headed to Western Kentucky University to play football.
However, the offensive and defensive tackle is redirecting his focus from his own to the basketball court where, as a partner athlete, he’s helping support his unified classmates at a regional unified basketball tournament held in early March.
“I love how much these students teach me about life; no matter what they face, they are happy,” said the second-year unified team member. “Here on the court, they’re able to play the same as everyone. To see the joy on their faces, and how much fun they’re having, is just awesome.”
Findlay is a peer tutor, so he interacts with students both on and off the court.
“They work hard in the classroom, and they don’t give up. Sometimes, they may not understand the concept as fast as others, but they keep trying until they do. It’s the same opportunity that they have here today. They’re working hard, but they can play. It makes me so happy to be a part of this team and what it means,” he said.
In unified basketball, there are five players on the court — three athletes and two unified partners. Teams play against other squads of the same ability in two eight-minute halves. Supported by Special Olympics and the Utah High School Activities Association, unified sports has both a competitive and a player development level, the latter which provides more of a cooperative environment with partners being teammates and mentors.
UHSAA referee Paul Madsen said he appreciates unified basketball.
“There’s great sportsmanship,” he said. “Everyone is helping each other. It’s wonderful to see.”
In Utah, involvement in unified high school basketball has skyrocketed. This year, there were the most teams in its history competing to play at state — 73 teams competed for 32 state seeds, said Courtnie Worthen, Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools manager.
Bingham, which placed first in its regional tournament division, went on to finish eighth at the March 8 state unified basketball tournament.
In addition, Jordan School District was honored with the District of the Year Award for Unified Sports in Utah.
“I love cheering for our athletes; they make us proud and represent us so well,” said Jordan Education Foundation President and South Jordan Mayor Dawn Ramsey, who along with JEF Executive Director Mike Haynes and Jordan District Superintendent Anthony Godfrey accepted the award. “Unified Sports is an incredible program and Jordan District has been a leader in the state as the first to implement a program districtwide. Special Olympics Utah, First Lady Abby Cox with her Show Up initiative, and the Jordan Education Foundation have been wonderful partners in supporting this effort.”
Administrators from several school districts and educational foundations joined the First Lady and Gov. Spencer Cox to support the competition that was held at Weber State University.
Abby Cox said she was proud of everyone in the gym.
“Utah, as a state — we are part of the inclusion revolution,” she told them.
Unified sports engagesengage students with and without intellectual disabilities on the same sports teams, leading to not only sports skills development and competition, but also inclusion and friendship, Worthen said.
“Unified sports provides social inclusion opportunities for all teammates to build friendships on - and off -the -court,” she said. “The teammates challenge each other to improve their skills and fitness and at the same time, increase positive attitudes and establish friendships and provide a model of inclusion for the entire school community.”
Unified sports, Worthen said, is included in the Unified Champion Schools model, where a unified team is supported by the entire school and there is inclusive youth leadership and whole school engagement.
“With schools that embrace the Unified Champion Schools model, they create communities where all students feel welcome and are included in all school activities and opportunities. Students feel socially and emotionally secure, they’re more engaged in the school and feel supported, and are respected,” she said. “It changes school climates.”