Wednesday, March 1st began as an ordinary day for the students at Brighton High School; but it was soon transformed as Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, Boston Public Schools (BPS) Superintendent Mary Skipper, Special Olympics Massachusetts President & CEO Mary Beth McMahon, news stations, guest speakers, and student athletes took to the gymnasium for the announcement of a new partnership between Special Olympic Massachusetts and BPS.
Upon first walking into the gym, the sound of power drills and metal clashing echoed as locker room construction was underway. This was shortly drowned out by a wave of cheering as students flooded the gymnasium to support their classmates in the school’s first-ever Unified Basketball game. And much like Brighton High’s locker rooms, the school is committed to rebuilding the way students with and without intellectual disabilities interact with each other by becoming a Unified Champion School.
“What Unified sports and the inclusion programs we offer has done is shown people’s abilities, and then through those abilities you don’t see the disabilities,” said Mary Beth McMahon. “Therefore, you become teammates on the court or on the field but more importantly friendships off the field and off the court.”
Special Olympics MA Unified Champion Schools encourages and empowers youth with and without intellectual disabilities to come together as student leaders and athletes; and last week it made the promise to bring inclusive programing to BPS by investing $450,000 so that all students from pre-K through post-grad programs have the opportunity to play inclusive sports.
“This is the first time I’ve gotten to play school sports and it makes me feel excited to be a part of a team,” said Brighton High School student Kevin Woods. “I’ve met students from the school who have now become my friends.”
Kevin’s experience with Brighton High’s Unified Basketball Team exemplifies the importance of Unified sports. His peers are able to see who he is as an athlete on the court, and this translates to how they see Kevin in the halls, in the classroom, and everywhere else. Unified Sports brings students of all abilities together—unifying their differences and creating lasting relationships.
The afternoon concluded with Brighton High’s first Unified Basketball game…and it was a close one. They divided their roster into two teams, one sporting white uniforms, and the other black. The game was neck and neck throughout both halves, and the student spectators were cheering for all players. Regardless of who actually scored or which team was ahead, the crowd erupted with applause every time someone made a basket (or even if they were close to making a basket!)
With just a few seconds left on the clock, Kevin’s team was ahead by just one point. A fellow teammate passed Kevin the ball, which he shot from just under half court, and scored to bring his team up 24-20 at the buzzer. His teammates, teachers, coaches, and students in the stands all went wild with applause, cheering, and clapping to celebrate Kevin’s success.
“We know that school is about learning, school is about growing, but it’s also about more than just books and learning and the classes that you have,” said Mayor Wu. “It’s about building community and getting the chance to grow in every way as a human being…inclusion is something we need to see at the heart of everything that we’re doing across the district.”
So far, there are a total of 23 BPS that have committed to being a Unified Champion School, and Special Olympics MA is excited to continue growing that number.
“We want every school in Boston to be part of Special Olympics,” said Mary Beth McMahon. “And you have my commitment to make sure that funding will always be there to not only grow, but sustain.”