Kamiak, Mariner face off in Unified Basketball

Teams are composesd of Special Olympics athletes, student peers
By David Pan | Jan 20, 2017
Photo by: David Pan Mariner Unified Basketball team member Seijin Depuy practices his offensive skills for an upcoming game against Kamiak on Jan. 26 at Kamiak High School.

Get ready to be entertained and inspired.

The Unified Basketball teams from Kamiak and Mariner high schools are scheduled to play their first game of the season on Thursday, Jan. 26, at Kamiak High School.

Unified Sports is a relatively new program in the Mukilteo School District where Special Olympics athletes or students with special needs are paired up with Unified Partners or student peers.

Each Unified Basketball team consists of three Special Olympics athletes and two partners.

This is the first year Mariner is fielding a Unified Basketball team and the second season for Kamiak.

Last year, Kamiak hosted an intra-squad scrimmage for its team. Kamiak student Prabhnoor Bassi attended the event and it opened his eyes.

“I had never seen anything like it before,” Bassi said. “Just to see the smiles on these kids’ faces, not even from playing basketball but just to be there, and how much fun they were having, meant the world to me. It was super amazing.”

Bassi joined Kamiak Companions, an after-school club where he and others interacted with special needs students. Bassi learned more about Unified Basketball and decided to join the team.

“It’s just really fun to come here and practice with them every day and see them grow as people,” Bassi said. “It’s really cool to interact with them and to watch them grow and grow along side them and learn new things.”

Mariner’s Makayla Pugmire previously was a peer tutor working with special needs students. She had friends on the Unified Basketball team, who encouraged her to come out for the team.

Pugmire, who had not played sports before, sees the program as way to become involved with the community and to learn skills that she will be able to take with her later in life. She has interests in social and behavioral studies.

“I thought getting different types of learning experiences was important,” Pugmire said.

Pugmire said that the Special Olympics athletes benefit in many ways by being a part of the Unified Basketball team.

“It creates a great place for involvement and helps them build communication skills for later in life,” she said. “These kids are eventually going to be independent. It helps them learn how to make closer relationships with people and learn to communicate and stay motivated, which I think is really important for them.”

Margaret Depuy said her son Seijin, a junior at Mariner High School, has always been a shy child. Through his involvement with Unified Sports and the basketball team he’s opened up to others.

“He hates being labeled and this was the perfect opportunity to be able to say ‘I’m just with the regular kids, playing basketball,’” Margaret said. “He didn’t want to limit himself just being a Special Olympic athlete or a special needs child.”

Seijin also participated in Unified Bowling and Track and Field. But basketball seems to be his first love.

“I’m kind of good at some moves and I’m good at jump shots and layups,” Seijin said. “I’ve done this since I was 12 or 13.”

Kamiak sophomore Andrew Bishop was a member of all three of his school’s Unified Sports team – bowling, basketball and track and field. He enjoys the social aspects of athletics.

“I like to meet new players on my team,” he said.

Kamiak’s Unified Basketball team has 11 Special Olympics athletes and 14 Unified Partners. Mariner has five Special Olympics athletes and five Unified Partners.

Kamiak junior Jonathon Barajas joined the Unified Basketball team this season and quickly made some new friends.

“It’s easy,” he said. “They’re nice. They do good stuff, like helping out each other.”

Unified Basketball is an official high school sport and Kamiak coach Georgia McClaskey and Mariner coach Austin Richard run the teams as they would any other program.

The student athletes have to follow the rules, such as maintaining their GPAs and attending class.

“They are held to the same standard as other athletes,” McClaskey said.

Richard, who coaches the team with his wife Nicole, admits that coaching Unified Basketball has been a change of pace from football and track and field.

The emphasis at practices is building relationships with each other, Richard said. Both Special Olympic athletes and Unified Partners learn a lot about each other.

“You have kids that may not normally interact with one another in the halls, working really closely together to achieve a common goal,” Richard said.

Kamiak senior Cesar Estrada worked with special needs students in art class and was encouraged to look into Unified Basketball by a teacher. He’s glad he joined the team.

“Every day after we finish up, I have this feeling that I’ve made new friends,” Estrada said. “I love to see these kids smiling. It’s amazing interacting with them, talking to them. They always have a smile on their face.”

The opening tipoff for the Unified Basketball game is set for 7 p.m. Both teams are aiming to come out with a victory.

“I’m hoping the team will win,” Seijin said.

The goal in the game, Barajas said, is “to work as a team and win the game.”

McClaskey said that spectators should expect to see something pretty magical.

“You’ll see inclusion in its purest form,” she said. “We’re bridging the gap, not only between students with disabilities and nondisabled students. We’re building community awareness that there’s just so much talent, spirit and excitement.

“Get ready for a fun night of smiling, laughing and just seeing the support and love for one another, no matter what your ability or skill is.”

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