South Sound Unified Basketball Makes an Impact on and off Court

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The Olympia High School Unified Basketball Teams hosted teams from Yelm High School, North Thurston Public Schools (North Thurston, Timberline, River Ridge), and the Tumwater School District Teams (Tumwater and Black Hills) for a Unified Basketball league game at Chick Rocky Gymnasium on February 2, 2024. 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.

Becky Blocher, director for Olympia’s Unified program, not only loves the ability of her athletes to compete and feel part of a team but is seeing results from those who mentor the athletes. “Some of our original mentors have gone on to form organizations in our community that support youth with disabilities with summer camps, fun outings and relationship building, which is just fantastic,” Blocher noted. “Others are working on getting their teacher certifications with endorsements in Special Education. At our first unified robotics competition this past November, we were greeted by a past OHS mentor who now works for the Special Olympics. The impact that Unified has made on our peer mentors is paving the way for a more inclusive community that I love being a part of.”

Unified teams play on Saturdays at the various schools and also host school “Pack The Gym” events that celebrate Unified Sports with the student body of each high school. The next “Pack the Gym” will be hosted by North Thurston High School on Monday, February 5, with the last league game being hosted at Tumwater High School at 9 a.m. on Saturday, February 10. Games are open to the public and free.

North Thurston High School Unified coach and advisor Erika Dean stated that the goal with Unified Sports is to bring students with and without disabilities together to form positive relationships and give all the students involved an opportunity to have a whole lot of fun on the basketball court together. “I always love the kids that come out and play Unified, but this year I think we have an especially great group,” Dean remarked. “We have quite a few partners who are participating for the first time as well as some brand-new athletes in the program and there is so much enthusiasm and energy at practices and games this year. It has been super fun.”

One other thing Dean noted is how Unified Sports has impacted the culture at North Thurston. “The benefits of Unified are not seen just on the court, they spread throughout our school community, bringing students with and without intellectual disabilities together at the lunch tables, working together in the classrooms, high-fiving in the hallways, helping to make North Thurston an accepting school environment for all students.”

Timberline coach and special education teacher Britnee Garwood, loves how Unified brings together the athletes and the partners from the school. “During school, they spend time together, which creates teamwork and community,” remarked Garwood. “The staff and principal also cheer on the team, bringing the whole school community closer. It’s amazing to see all the wins and achievements this program brings to the school! The Timberline program is not just about winning, but also about the relationships and positive impact it has on the school and its partners.”

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