Published in the May 7, 2019 edition.
By MARK SARDELLA
WAKEFIELD – The Wakefield Public Schools continue to find opportunities to create inclusion, with the announcement of a new Unified Sports program as the latest example.
Director of Athletics, Health and Wellness Brendan Kent appeared before the School Committee last week to announce the new initiative at Wakefield Memorial High School.
Kent explained that Unified Sports falls under the umbrella of the Special Olympics but is different from other Special Olympics programs in that it combines students with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team.
Kent said that Unified Sports is a growing phenomenon. Over the last few years, unified sports teams have been popping up on college campuses and now they are starting to appear at the high school level as well, Kent said.
Locally, he said that the idea came out of a meeting of Middlesex League athletic directors who were discussing the possibility of launching a Unified Sports league as part of the Middlesex League. That program has now in fact launched, with basketball being the first sport offered.
Kent said that there are currently three teams in the new Middlesex Unified Sports League: Wakefield Memorial High School, Melrose High School and Lexington High School. The three teams will play each other throughout the month of May in this inaugural season, Kent said. The first game was last Thursday, with Wakefield hosting Lexington.
Kent said that he was impressed with the level of enthusiasm and support that the new program has gotten from students. He said that the first person to sign up was two-time Warrior varsity basketball co-captain Ryan Marcus, who told Kent that he wanted to be involved with the Unified team. The Wakefield Unified Basketball program includes boys and girls.
The first head coach of the Warrior Unified Basketball Team will be Wakefield Director of Special Education Donna Conlon.
Kent said that there would be no user fees for the program. He noted that he and Conlon got together and figured out ways to fund the program through their existing budgets. The players will have uniforms, he said, and the games will be conducted in a similar fashion as other sports, with pregame ceremonies including announcement of starting line-ups.
Assuming Unified Basketball is a success, Kent said that the hope is to start a flag football program next year.
“This is a great opportunity to bring together all of our students of varying ability levels, playing on the same team with each other and developing great friendships and respect for each other,” Kent said.