Unified Sports Have Become a Fixture at KP Regional

Ken Hamwey Staff Sports Writer
KP Athletic Director Gary Brown.
Issue Date: 
March, 2019
Article Body: 

King Philip Regional has added unified sports to its athletic menu.
Gary Brown, now in his second year as the Warriors’ athletic director, is delighted that the rapidly popular concept has become a fixture at KP and also at many area high schools.
“It brings together athletes, with and without intellectual disabilities, to practice and compete on the same team,’’ Brown said. “It’s a great way to build an inclusive high school community and to develop friendships among all students.’’
KP’s involvement with unified sports began last fall with basketball, continued into the winter with bocce and will conclude in the spring with track and field. Brown, who labels KP’s adventure into unified sports as “the highlight of my two years as A.D.,’’ credits Student Council Advisor Ellen Dill and Lisa Halloway, a special education teacher, for their efforts in getting the concept underway.
“We formed a partnership to make this happen,’’ Brown emphasized. “Ellen, Lisa and I worked together but they’ve been so supportive and they’re very excited to see it expand and go forward.’’
At KP, the goal is to have all unified sports teams compete against other towns. The basketball team will face other schools, but not until next fall. This school year, basketball was strictly played among KP students.
The track team, which will start on March 25, will practice three times a week and compete in five meets against Hockomock League schools. The format will include running and throwing events and will also include qualifying for sectional and state meets.
Bocce was a one-day tournament on Jan. 12 at Walpole High School where KP battled a variety of other schools and collected some victories. All teams in the three sports are co-ed.
“Thirty-two kids played basketball, Bocce had 12 and, from all the feedback we’re getting, we expect a sizable turnout in track,’’ Brown said. “Next year, our unified basketball team will likely play eight games against Hockomock League schools. When our first basketball game was held (Dec. 12), we had the largest crowd at the KP gym since I’ve been here. There were about 500 fans and it was standing-room only. We played only two games in basketball and they included eight five-minute quarters. There were lots of opportunity and playing time.’’
Brown sees plenty of rewards from a unified sports program.
“Friendships are created among the athletes and their partners,’’ he said. “It’s a way of using sports to help kids in a social and physical way. I enjoy seeing the friendships go beyond sports. Seeing the participants paired up in the hallways or the cafeteria is great.
“Confidence and trust are built and the program helps them become positive members of the KP community. Our Superintendent (Paul Zinni) and our Principal (Dr. Lisa Mobley) support and embrace the unified programs.’’
The structured environment promotes fun but, as Brown indicates, “it also ensures opportunity and participation.’’
Brown treats the unified teams just like they’re a varsity squad. Coaches are needed, facilities have to be available, referees must be on hand and buses are required for transportation. The KP varsity basketball coaches — Amy Siggins and Dave DeStefano — are the unified hoop coaches and Matt Anderson is the track coach. Basketball referees and track officials are student volunteers.
Brown admires the collegial atmosphere that’s been demonstrated by all A.D.s in the Hockomock League. “We support each other, offer advice and lean on one another if needed,’’ he emphasized. “There are great relationships among the A.D.s in the league.’’
Brown firmly believes there’ll be other sports added to unified programs. He envisions bowling and kickball as potential add-ons but says: “we’re open to anything students might prefer.’’
Those currently participating in unified sports do not have to pay an athletic fee. The costs associated with the program are funded through the athletic budget.
“We’re proud that unified sports are offered at KP and we expect them to forever be part of the athletic menu,’’ Brown said. “The crowds attending are not just parents. Students are part of the crowd, too. When we had the first basketball game, we had cheerleaders at the event and we even had an announcer.’’
According to Brown, unified sports was a collaborative effort that got its start approximately 10 years ago when Special Olympics and the Mass. Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) teamed up.
Basketball and track are the most traditional sports among the schools participating but the loud and positive cheering emanating from the crowds at KP could be a signal that more sports are likely to be added in the future.
At KP, Gary Brown, Ellen Dill and Lisa Halloway formed a partnership that’s made unified sports worthwhile and enjoyable. And popular, too.