Hundreds of people showed up at Olympia High School Friday night, for a basketball game with a bigger purpose than points on the board.
The school’s Pack The Gym event was designed to raise both money and awareness for the Unified Sports program.
“Unified Sports is an opportunity for special needs students and general education students to compete on the same team together. It’s not one group of students saying hey you can play with us, it’s both having that opportunity to play with each other,” said Antonio McClinon.
He’s a special education teacher at Olympia High School and head coach of the school’s unified basketball team.
This is Olympia’s third year taking part in the unified program. So far, the school has unified teams playing basketball and soccer. The staff hopes to add additional unified sports in the near future because they say the program is already making a difference at the school.
“I know it’s real. You know, I see it every day here. Kids walking down the halls, giving each other high fives, not distinguishing who is special needs and who is general education. It’s just amazing. It promotes social inclusion,” said McClinon.
Friday’s Pack The Gym event included games against the unified teams from North Thurston and Timberline, with a suggested $5 donation that benefits the Olympia Unified Sports Program.
The big crowd was a welcome sight for student-athletes who took the court.
“It’s really exciting, when I hear the crowd getting loud. It makes me motivated, it gets me ready to play,” said Megan Parks, who plays on Olympia’s unified basketball team. “I’m going to do great. I’m going to be the best. I’m going to see if I can score tonight.”
Her friend, classmate, and teammate, Jack McCauley, says spending time with Megan and others is his favorite part of being part of the program.
“It’s all about the relationships. Getting closer to each other. And having fun,” he said. “It’s a very inclusive environment where everyone is welcome.”
McCauley, now a senior at Olympia High School, says he wants to continue to be part of a unified sports program when he heads to college. That’s how strongly he feels about promoting social inclusion through athletics.
“Because I found so much joy and built so many relationships through this,” he said. “So wherever I go to college next year, I want to build something like this, so it can spread.”