TJ’s Unified Sports beat Cherry Creek High School in their first ever Unified basketball game and later received a visit from Denver Nugget basketball players, and followed all of that up by beating Kennedy in an exciting contest last week!
“We make sure that every student has the chance to be involved in any activity provided. … There is nothing that should stand in their way. After that event, there was a huge push by students to make sure they knew when the next Unified Sports game was. I am touched by the support that the whole school has given to the students who are involved,” said TJ special education teacher and Unified Sports basketball coach Mollie Pitrone, about the team’s most recent match-up with Kennedy High School.
In an article sent to all DPS employees, Superintendent Tom Boasberg expressed his extreme pleasure with the Unified program. “I applaud everyone’s drive and passion to ensure all of our students have the opportunity to participate in all of the programs our schools provide. About 10% of our student population are students with disabilities, and it is so important to give them the best, most comprehensive, and well-rounded education possible. I’m deeply appreciative of the tremendous inclusion work taking place at TJ, JFK, Steele and schools all across the city. It is a shining example of putting the DPS Shared Core Values of Students First and Equity into action,” said Denver’s Education Leader, Boasberg.
On December 19, 2012, our very own TJ Unified sports players took on Cherry Creek High Unified sports players and brought home the win. With a total of 50 competitors, Creek was still not capable of beating TJ, who only had about 10 athletes. “The students did great!” said Unified Sports Teacher Mollie Pitrone.
Pitrone describes the game as “overwhelming” since the opposing team had numerous more players than TJ. “With just three players along with their assistants, against all of Cherry Creeks students, and we still pulled it off,” she said.
The idea of Unified Sports flourished when the Unified students and staff decided to incorporate the students into more everyday life activities. “Project Unify was where this all started from. It began last year as a way to bring school Unified teams together,” said Pitrone. According to Pitrone, Unified sports will create the opportunity for students to become more involved with those with disabilities. “We’re looking forward to uniting everyone together, with or without disabilities.”
With the help of the TJ’s Athletics Director, Andrew Skari, soon the Unified sports team members will have their very own team jerseys. “We’re looking at the girls’ basketball jerseys from past years to see if there are some that we could have the Unified students use. If not, we will order them through a grant process or see what else we can figure out,” said Skari. “We would love to see more activities involving the Unified students, as well as more partnerships betweens students with and without disabilities.”
Skari also believes it’s important for TJ students to get involved and support the Unified sports students. “We would love to see more students attend the Unified sports games and become a fan of all of our TJ athletes. We need to spread the word and get more people to go watch our Unified players as well as have more students help them out,” said Skari.
According to Pitrone, “Denver Public Schools has its own Special Olympics team but we only play during the school day and its not as much fun when the kids can’t have fans and stuff that come and support them, so we started a Unified Sports team and even though we’ve only had one game, were still recognized as being as team. If I can get the paper work together we’re going to go to the state tournament and play against other schools.”
Skari as well as the Unified Sports teachers are currently in the process to organize basket ball games with other schools. “We’re currently trying to schedule another game with Kennedy High School. We will be meeting with their representatives this Thursday to try and schedule something,” said Skari. “The head of Athletics for Denver Public Schools, used to be a special educations teacher, this is, in a way, her special project, making sure that we are going to get kids to do after school activates. It’s also becoming a state mandate that every school has a Unified Sports team to incorporate students with special needs into sports. Right now we are the only school in DPS who has an after school Unified Sports team.”
This past January 29th the Unified Sports students’ received a visit from a few of the Denver Nuggets basketball players to encourage them to keep playing sports. “The Nuggets players contacted me,” said Pitrone, “they got involved with the whole Project Unified which contacted Special Olympics. I have a Special Olympics contact that contacted me, and that said, ‘hey would you like the Nuggets to come to school?’ And I said ‘Yea!’”
The students and staff all enjoyed spending time with the Nuggets athletes. “I liked the fact that everyone was very excited to shoot the ball, and excited to be there. I thought it was cool how a lot of the kids with disabilities didn’t see the Nuggets players as famous, they just played and shot the ball, and passed the ball back and forth,” said Pitrone. Senior Geneva Gaines also found the Nuggets visit to be a memorable experience, “I thought it was really fun! I liked how the students put themselves out there and just had fun with professional athletes,” she said. The Unified Sports students and staff members received autographs, t-shirts and two tickets to attend a Denver Nuggets Game.
Along with basketball, the Unified Sports students have also organized a soccer team that will have their first game against Kennedy High’s Unified Sports students. “Hopefully the 26th of April we will be playing North, we’re still trying to get busses,” said Pitrone. DPS has attempted to put together a Special Olympics soccer team for the past 2-3 years. Thanks to funding for Special Olympics schools like TJ now have the necessary equipment to put together a Unified Sports soccer team including busses and uniforms. With the help from coaches, Jessica Riconti and Mike Hawkins, Pitrone is hoping to make Unified soccer season memorable. Students and community members are welcome to come support or help with any of the Unified Sports team games by contacting Pitrone or any of the Unified coaches.