(Raleigh- 4/28/16) The team chemistry was mixing perfectly. The baskets were falling and now after an undefeated regular season, the champion of the four-team NC State Special Olympics NC Unified Basketball league was poised to take on the winner of the UNC Wilmington Unified Basketball league for the top honor in the burgeoning Unified Basketball league in North Carolina!
NC State and Wilmington played and won two games vs Wilmington. The games weren’t too close, but the final score and winning bragging rights for 2016 wasn’t what dictated this day a success for either team. View Photos!
“The key is having fun and getting everybody together. It’s not all about winning, it’s about having fun together,” said Russell Howell, a Special Olympics Wake County athlete and member of the NC State Unified team.
Methodist University was a third school which competed in Unified Basketball this year but was unable to compete in the final competition. The three schools offered Special Olympics Unified Basketball this spring through their Campus Recreation Departments after successful fall season of Unified Flag Football.
“The athletes all come out so happy, whether they or winning or losing, making shots or missing,” Kayla Pless, a student at Methodist University. “They are just out here having fun. That’s what the game’s about. “
For some of the college students this was their first experience with Special Olympics. Special Olympics and Campus Recreation Departments have partnered on this program with the help of funds from ESPN. ESPN is in the midst of a multi-year global collaboration with Special Olympics to leverage the power of sports and promote an environment of social inclusion through the Special Olympics Unified Sports program.
“It’s been more than what I expected. I didn’t expect to be that involved with them (Special Olympics athletes). It’s really one-on-one and I like it a lot,” said Savannah Brinkley, a student at UNC Wilmington. “The best part is getting to know these athletes. They’re really sweet. They’re great people and they’re really kind-hearted. That’s really refreshing. “
The opportunity is also great for Special Olympics NC athletes, as it provides another competition opportunity for them and with some different teammates.
“It’s fun playing with all the college students,” said Joseph Holmes, an athlete from Cumberland County who competed on a Methodist University team. “You can play on a different level than you usually play on. I really enjoy it.”
As Unified Sports offerings expand across the state, more and more universities and Special Olympics NC athletes will interact and develop lasting friendships. Hopefully a full-fledged Unified Basketball Tournament weekend will be the culmination of the season in the future!
“If we could do it more, whether it’s on campus or off campus, I’d love for more people to come out and get involved,” Pless said excitedly.
After the conclusion of Saturday’s games between NC State and UNC Wilmington, Howell praised the campus staff and looked forward to next year.
“I appreciate the great staff at NC State for letting us do this. I love it. It’s like my second home,” Howell gushed. “I’m going to sign up every year!”
Interested in starting a Unified Sports league at a North Carolina university? contact Special Olympics NC Sports Department for all the details.