A Unified basketball game, between Scarborough and Windham. Courtesy image

Unified basketball has returned full-time at Scarborough High School after being slowed down by the COVID-19 pandemic. Unified Sports, under Special Olympics, unites people with and without special needs on the same team.

“Unified Champion Schools is Special Olympics’ inclusion strategy for schools that incorporates three components and one of those components is Unified Sports,” said Ian Frank, director of Unified Champion Schools. “Unified Sports pairs students with and without intellectual disabilities onto the same team to train and compete and represent their school in a variety of different sports, but basketball being the most popular one here in Maine.”

Unified basketball has been part of Scarborough High School for years. “It has been around for about seven, eight, maybe nine years, almost every high school has a team, which is wonderful,” said Albert McCormack, coach of the team as well as a science teacher at the high school. “It’s been growing dramatically. The team is made of — half the kids have special needs, half are without (special needs) — they work together as one team, which is great. We compete against other high schools, just like a regular basketball game, and we have a lot of fun doing it. It’s brought a lot to not only the kids, but also the school in general. It’s great to see inclusion happening, in its purest form, and everyone comes out to support and have a great time doing it.”

The team provides a community opportunity at the school. “It’s fun,” said Sam Cassellius, a forward on the team, before a home game on March 2.

“I think it’s great, it’s a great experience to do,” said Max Peterson, a guard on the team. “At the beginning of the season, we all get to know each other. Toward the end we’re all super close to each other, it’s a great experience.”

The pandemic impeded the sport, but this year it’s back stronger than ever.

“Certainly the 2020 season kind of came to an abrupt end to the season because of the pandemic,” Frank said. “And then in 2021, we didn’t really have much of a season, but we tried to do some things more virtually and engage schools more locally, but didn’t have too much of a game schedule on the calendar. And then last year we did see some schools come out and compete.

“Some schools decided not to for their own variety of reasons, but we did have a good slug of schools across the state that did jump back in last year, but I’ll tell you, this year we saw even more schools come back, and even some new schools that have never been participating before, so definitely seen some growth there and a jump back in participation.”

The team recently had a home game on March 2 against South Portland, and an away game on March 7 in Windham.

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