Community cheers Unified Basketball teamsKamiak, Mariner come together for Unified game; Special Olympians, student peers hit the court for first time
Kamiak prevailed over district rival Mariner 43-34 in the first-ever Unified Basketball game Jan. 26 at Kamiak High School.
But as far as the players and coaches were concerned, both teams left the court as winners.
The game, played before packed stands of students, parents and community members, was punctuated by spectacular shots, loud cheers and all-around good sportsmanship.
Unified Sports is a program in which Special Olympics athletes or students with special needs are teamed up with Unified Partners or student peers. Each of the teams had three Special Olympics athletes and two partners on the court at one time.
This was the first time the two schools played each other. Mariner started its Unified Basketball team this year, while it is the second season for Kamiak.
Senior Keller Whitney, who also is a member of the Knights boys basketball team, said that what he values the most about his experience as a Unified Partner are the friendships with his teammates.
“For me, it’s all about building relationships with these guys who you wouldn’t go out of your way to make a relationship with,” he said. “When you get to know them, they’re genuine people who have great feelings for you and you have great friendships with.”
Mariner Unified Partner Arjay Agpaoa feels the same way about his teammates.
“They’re really great. They’re friendly. They’re kind and they’re nice,” he said. “Through practices, we build relationships with each other. We help each other out.”
That cooperative spirit extended to play on the court.
Mariner’s Bryan Arroyo enjoyed helping get his teammates involved in the game.
“I like how the game works,” he said. “I had fun passing the ball. We’re running and dribbling and going under their legs and passing it to someone.”
Though Thursday night’s crowd made it difficult for the Kamiak coach Georgia McClaskey and Mariner coach Austin Richard to communicate with their teams, the players seemed unfazed by the sometimes deafening roar from the stands.
The Mariner players were excited to hit the court, Richard said. “They had a good nervous energy. They were ready to go.”
McClaskey appreciated how Kamiak and Mariner supported each other.
“It just comes down to the two schools coming together and no matter what was happening on either end of the court, there was just an enthusiasm and excitement no matter what was happening,” she said. “It really just
brought us all together. … I think it’s the next step towards recognizing different abilities and the differences within our community and it’s just another step towards inclusion and acceptance within Mukilteo.”
The crowd made Thursday’s game even more memorable for the players.
“That’s really what makes it special for the kids out there, getting all that recognition,” Whitney said.
Agpaoa saw the game as a chance to break down some stereotypes.
“There should be more games like this, more sports like Special Olympics,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for them to play and to show that they should have fun too.”
Richard is going to remember the excitement each and every one of his players felt on the court.
“The highlight of the night for me is that every single one of our athletes scored,” he said. “To watch the community and how many people came together, obviously that makes it special.
“To know that they’re supported and what they’re doing is important helps validate the time that they are putting in.”
Kamiak High School was honored as Special Olympics Washington’s top-fundraising school in the state, raising more than $6,000 for the organization during its annual campaign last spring.
Other Snohomish County supporters raised an additional $8,000.