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Oxford High kicks off Unified Sports initiative

OXFORD – Students lined the balcony and scattered throughout the bleachers during their lunch break at the Oxford High School gym to witness a basketball game. However, this was not a standard varsity of junior varsity matchup.

Thursday marked the inaugural event of Unified Sports at Oxford High School. The event brings together students with special needs and general education students to participate in sporting events. Today, it was a 20-minute, 4-quarter basketball game between teams of equal skill level. Teams were integrated between special education and general education students. They will also be participating in bowling.

“I think it’s amazing. No one is different,” said Rose Hickey, an assistant coach in the game and the girls personal fitness instructor at Oxford High School. “I know who the students are, but if someone else was observing, I think it would be difficult to see what students are the ones with disabilities and which ones are not.”

Unified Sports isn’t a new thing nationally. According to the Special Olympics official website, Unified Sports is designed to “join people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team.” Additionally, their goal is “promoting social inclusion through shared sports training and competition experience.” The Special Olympics says that about 1.4-million people globally take part in Unified Sports, an initiative sponsored by ESPN.

“It’s something I’ve been wanting for three years,” said Minnie Gates-Powell, who teaches the special education students at Oxford. “It exceeded my expectations. The motivation and competitiveness was wonderful. The spectators were great. They were excited about it.”

The games not only were a way to increase student interactions with others that they may not communicate with often, but it unintentionally served as a sort of pep-rally leading up to Friday night’s Oxford-Lafayette basketball games. At halftime, while the crowd erupted when Embry Fox, one of the students participating in a halftime skills competition, effortlessly sank consecutive free throws and layups.

“We want to accomplish having all students being able to participate, together, in a sport they truly love,” Hickey said. “That’s what it’s all about. It’s such a great thing that the school has started.”

Oxford will play four more basketball games on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons in January between the 15th and the 24th. They’re hoping it will continue to draw more students and maybe even people from the community.