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Unified Basketball: Capstone Project

After being involved in sports their whole lives and having great past experiences working with Special Olympics through James River’s Rapid Fire team and Little Feet Meet, Emily and Erin knew that for their Capstone they wanted to benefit Special Olympics. They decided to carry on Ben Knight’s Capstone, Unified Basketball. After hearing about the amazing work Ben did, they wanted to continue his project and bring it back for a second year!

Unified Basketball is a six-week basketball program for children in grades 3-8 that took place at Bon Air Baptist Church from 4:00-5:30 PM. The program started on Sunday, February 4 and occured every Sunday after that until March 11. The purpose of this project was to promote inclusion among children of different physical and mental abilities and provide a fun, physical activity for children in our community. Emily and Erin worked with Special Olympics in order to plan and implement this project, and their end goal was to donate any money they received to Special Olympics Virginia.

At the program, the children were partnered up, one athlete with one partner, and then put into groups with other partners who were of the same grade or skill level. These mixed groups with athletes (a child with disabilities) and partners (a child without disabilities) allowed them to achieve their goal of inclusion as the kids were able to help each other learn basketball skills and bond through games. The first week of the program was focused on dribbling, the second week was passing, the third week was shooting, the fourth week was defense, and the fifth week was a review of everything that was learned in the prior weeks. The third week was a special day in the program because they had a real Unified Basketball team from Special Olympics come and play a game against the middle school group. They formed a team of middle schoolers who participated in the program so that they could play a real game against the Salem Unified team. The last day of the program was a huge tournament where they had the elementary schoolers scrimmage each other and the middle schoolers scrimmage against each other. Afterwards, everyone enjoyed a meal together provided by O’Tooles Irish Pub and Restaurant. As people ate, they had a Special Olympics athlete, Paul Marretti, speak about Special Olympics, the importance of participating in Unified Sports, and the opportunities that children with different physical/mental abilities have in life. At the end of the dinner celebration, there was an awards ceremony where participants received certificates for all of their hard work.

Over the course of the six weeks, the children grew into better friends as well as basketball players. The goals of promoting inclusion and providing a fun activity for children were both achieved as relationships formed among children of all abilities. All participants and volunteers ensured that everyone was active and involved. It was so special to see the children working together and to see such enthusiasm for basketball amongst participants and volunteers.

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