Marcy, N.Y. - The unified basketball season kicked off with an afternoon of scrimmages at Whitesboro High School, Thursday.
Five local schools (Central Valley Academy, VVS, Oneida, New Hartford and Whitesboro) took part in a new sports league that is intended to provide inclusion for those that may not have been able to play a varsity sport for a variety of reasons.
It is intended to allow students with mental or physical disabilities, or those who couldn't play varsity for other reasons, the chance to experience playing for their school, and playing on a team.
"It really improves school climate, and school culture," said NYSPHSAA Assistant Director, Todd Nelson. "Nowadays when you talk bullying and acceptance, this really allows these students to feel accepted."
The New York State Public High School Athletics Association (NYSPHSAA) partnered with Special Olympics New York five years ago to bring 12 schools in the Albany area into the fold to participate in this sport. Now, there are 140 schools throughout the state that have unified basketball teams.
Last year, six schools in the Syracuse area started teams up and this year, five have come to the Mohawk Valley area.
"I played varisty in my junior year and it's just cool to be back on the court, back wearing Whitesboro across my chest," said Warriors senior, Nicholas Paolozzi. "It's fun to play with these kids"
It also helps build relationships through teamwork.
"It's awesome because you get to build relationships with people you'd probably never be friends with," said Whitesboro senior, Matthew Servello. "So it builds a bridge, you know, it's cool."
Bringing about the sense of belonging has been very evident to others witnessing the student-athletes who have gone out to buy athletic gear and outfits in preparation of their first season.
"It's really been a joy to see them in school with their jerseys on, and everyone high-fiving them saying we're going to come to your game," said Whitesboro co-coach, Donna Deuel. "So it's been a great experience and we're really proud to be able to host it."
The unified basketball season continues throughout the spring.