Marcy, N.Y. - Six local high schools were represented at Whitesboro High School for a unified basketball scrimmage, Tuesday.
Whitesboro, New Hartford, VVS, Camden, Central Valley Academy and Oneida each brought teams onto the court to showcase their talents in game action for the first time this year.
The Unified Sports program brings students with physical or mental disabilities together with other non-disabled students to compete together on the same team for their school.
It is the result of a partnership between the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) and Special Olympics New York.
Unified Sports promotes inclusion for all, in this case following the same rules as varsity basketball to offer an authentic basketball experience for those who may not suit up for the school in the winter.
"I think a lot of times students with intellectual disabilities are put off into the corner a lot of times and don't feel like they are a part of the school climate or the school setting," said NYSPHSAA Assistant Director, Todd Nelson. "This opportunity allows them to come out and showcase their talents that they have."
In its sixth year in New York State, unified basketball is entering its second season in the Greater Utica/Mohawk Valley area.
After starting out with just a handful of schools in the Albany area, there are now 165 school basketball teams represented across the state, 22 of them in Section III.
The program aims at teaching student-athletes the concept of dedication, teamwork, overcoming adversity and other lessons learned through sports, while offering an opportunity for them to represent their school in an interscholastic setting.
"There are a lot of students out there that don't have the opportunity to put on that school uniform," said Nelson. "I think it showcases to the spectators that are in the stands, to the coaches, to the administrators, and to their peers that all students can be successful."
It's not just beneficial to students with physical and mental disabilities, however, but a way for students of all abilities to come together and form bonds or friendships that they may not have sought out otherwise.
"[Unified sports] are showing that these students have talent even if they may have a disability," said Nelson. "We now see that these kids are interacting in the hallway, they're having lunch together in the cafeteria and they're actually socializing outside of the school setting."
One of the most important aspects throughout the unified sports program is the fact that it aims to give student-athletes the confidence that no matter what circumstances they may find themselves in, they can accomplish great things if they put in the work and effort.
"They can be successful," Nelson said. "Someone doesn't have to hand them something or help them out to be successful, they can do it on their own."
New this year, the local unified basketball league will be holding a four-team tournament where teams will compete for a championship trophy at the end of the season.
To learn more information about Unified Sports, click here.
For more about Tuesday's local unified basketball scrimmage, check out the video above.