NEW HARTFORD -- Staff at New Hartford High School are creating opportunities in sports for students with disabilities.
Basketball coaches say they want to change the school's culture and idea about inclusion.
The unified basketball team is gearing up for their first game of the season.
New Hartford High School started their first unified basketball team, which includes students with and without disabilities
"It's still competitive, authentic basketball,” Head Coach Krista Circelli said. “Just for students who normally wouldn't typically, maybe, make a varsity team due to different reasons."
This is the first unified basketball team in New Hartford.
The team started just weeks ago … as a way to give students with disabilities the same competitive opportunities as their peers.
The team started, just weeks ago, as a way to give students with disabilities the same competitive opportunities as their peers.
"Being able to incorporate everyone, not excluding everyone. Everyone who usually isn't on a sports team is welcome on to the team,” student Emma Schmid said. “And I think that's the best apart of being on this team."
Coaches say, while there are many challenges to coaching the team, it is still very rewarding.
"It's really a lot of fun,” Assistant Coach Jill Davies-Nelson said. “And we probably get, as coaches, as much as the kids do from each other."
Coaches say the unified basketball team helps students develop friendships on and off the basketball courts.
“When you hear a kid tell you, just out loud, that they don't really have any friends and then watch how they take the shine, it's just amazing,” Davies-Nelson said.
Coaches say out of the 16 students on the team, about half of them have either a physical or mental disability.
Coach Davies says she has seen students benefit since joining the team.
"I'm pretty happy with the way that the kids have progressed so far,” Davies-Nelson said. “And just truthfully the genuine friendships that they seem to be forging, and the respect that they seem to be building for each other, which is so important."