Local South Sound Unified Basketball high school teams resumed play Saturday, January 29 after pausing last year due to COVID-19. Teams from Olympia, Tumwater, Black Hills, North Thurston and Timberline visited host River Ridge High School. The Unified Sports program partners with Special Olympics as athletes with intellectual disabilities compete in various activities including clubs, fundraisers, inclusion campaigns robotics and year-round sports like basketball and soccer.

Not only was it the first time teams have played since the COVID, it was also the first time River Ridge has held league play. River Ridge Coordinator Beverly Fanning was pleased with the chance for teams to come to River Ridge. “It was great to see old friends and make new ones,” remarked Fanning. “The teams, coaches and fans had great energy and sportsmanship, which made it great day for all who came.”

Tumwater School District brought a Unified team from Tumwater and Black Hills High Schools to compete for the first time at the Unified League. Tumwater High School is coordinated by Aimee Lanteigne who led the joint team as Black Hills director Heidi Johnson was not able to be present. “The athletes have been practicing the last several weeks to learn fundamental basketball skills and have been loving it,” Lanteigne stated. “Even though Tumwater High School and Black Hills High School haven’t had an opportunity to practice together before today, I think they did a fantastic job coming together to form one Tumwater Schools team.”

Olympia Unified Director Becky Blocher was also excited for her team of 25 athletes to be able to compete again. “It felt amazing to be back out on the court again today, seeing so many familiar faces from previous seasons,” recalled Blocher. “We are looking forward to the rest of our season and especially our ‘Pack the Gym’ on February 24 at Olympia High School.”

For Timbeline Director Ken Powell, one of the biggest parts of Unified sports is the support and connection from the community. “For the athletes this is often the highlight of the year,” Powell stated. “For the partners it is a chance to learn how to interact with students of different abilities and to step into leadership roles. The best part is the relationships that our players form that get carried into every day student life.”

For more information on how to be involved please contact league coordinator from North Thurston High School Michela Laverty at mlaverty1@nthurston.k12.wa.us. Teams continue play next Saturday along with Pack the Gym events at many high schools, where the student body from each high school is able to interact and encourage the athletes.

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