Skyler Smith‘s Journey with Unified Basketball



THE INCEPTION ~ As a senior now looking forward to graduation, I can still remember being a freshman and going to the first meeting Coach Arrigenna held for the new HF-L Unified Basketball program. He led an activity where we went around the room and every player was asked why they wanted to play and be a part of this program.

The activity began with a few genuine but random responses. Then one kid said, “I’ve never really had a chance to be on a team before.” I glanced at Coach A. and I saw a deeply emotional look overtake his face. Later on I asked him why. All he said was, “That was the moment I knew I made the right decision to coach this team.” I was too naïve to get it then, but I think I get it now. It was a powerful moment.

THE BACKGROUND ~ Unified basketball is a program run by Section V in conjunction with Special Olympics, in which the competing teams consist of players with cognitive and other disabilities, as well as those without. The program is an official varsity sport with competitively played games refereed by certified officials. During its four years of existence some very special moments, creating many lasting memories, have transpired.

Over the next few weeks I would like to provide my readers with the storyline of a program which has been one of the most significant components of my high school experience. I think I’ll begin with a timeline that documents the historical background of the program and then move on to some more personal stories.

January 2014 ~ The New York State Public High School Athletic Association contacts the Monroe County Public School Athletic Conference and requests a meeting to present a proposal for a new program called Unified Basketball. This would be the second such program in the state; Albany having launched one the year before.

February 2014 ~ State officials meet with county officials to discuss the proposal. The decision is made to form an Organizing Committee to be made up of Superintendents, Athletic Directors, Principals, Coaches, Special Ed Teachers and officials from New York State, Section V, and Monroe County.

June 2014 ~ The first meeting of the Organizing Committee occurs via conference call. HF-L’s A.D. Brian Donohue is one of nine people involved in this first meeting.

July 2014 – February 2015 ~ The Organizing Committee meets monthly developing a pilot brochure, a power point presentation, and cost estimates for initiating the program starting in the spring of 2015.

April 2015 ~ Practice begins for the program’s first year with the 14 founding teams listed in the chart below.

2015 Founding Teams
Brockport Fairport
Canandaigua Gates-Chili
Churchville-Chili Greece
East HS Honeoye Falls-Lima
East Irondequoit Penfield
East Rochester Pittsford
Edison Spencerport

Come back next week for our big tip-off and we’ll let the games begin.



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