HomeMoorestown NewsCouncil declares Unified basketball team champions

Council declares Unified basketball team champions

Program promotes inclusion and engagement through athletics.

Special to The Sun: Moorestown High School’s Unified varsity basketball team wins the state championship against Hunterdon Central Regional High School at Rutgers University in Newark on March 20. Senior Luke Barton (middle center) celebrates with his teammates.

Moorestown council last month proclaimed the township high school’s Unified varsity basketball team state champions after their undefeated season and championship win against Hunterdon Central Regional High School.

The proclamation also recognizes the players as role models for teamwork, dedication and inclusion in the community, said Mayor Nicole Gillespie.

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According to specialolympics.org, Unified Sports connects people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same teams and was inspired by a simple principle: Training together and playing together is a quick path to friendship and understanding. 

The Special Olympics’ Unified Champion Schools program promotes social inclusion through planned activities that result in systems-wide change. That  is accomplished by implementing inclusive sports, inclusive youth leadership opportunities and school engagement.

“We started our Unified program … about six years or so ago,” said Moorestown High Principal Andrew Seibel. “The program was born out of a grant opportunity from Special Olympics New Jersey and a partnership to incorporate programs that celebrate students with intellectual disabilities interacting with their typically developing peers.”

“More specifically, it really is just a combination of them being in activities together and … where we’ve seen the greatest level of participation is in athletic programs,” he added. “So, we at Moorestown High School have integrated a play Unified movement of Special Olympics into Unified soccer, basketball, bowling and track teams.”

Moorestown resident Amy Barton said the Unified varsity basketball team has given her son Luke, a senior, opportunities to learn and grow as an athlete doing something he loves. Luke was diagnosed with autism in 2016.

“Unified Sports in particular is extraordinary because it is the only place where a lot of young students can actually be on a competitive team together,” she noted. “The other thing about Unified, for Luke, was because he is a good athlete. He had to do a lot of processing around what was happening on the court or the field.”

“It wasn’t always about just being super intense and competitive, it was about making sure that other kids that might not otherwise get the ball get a chance to take a shot,” Barton added.

“A lot of the fans that come to our games are students … that’s at home games and then at away games. The other team’s friends come so that’s kind of cool,” Luke said.

Seibel said Unified continues to evolve at the school; this year’s program started off with 80 students.

“We were able to divide the program into three different levels and start to match up students who were a combination of friendly with one another, familiar with one another and on similar skill levels as one another,” he said. 

“In being able to combine those different things, we’ve been able to really have a high-functioning athletic team that really is in a special category this year in terms of their talent level and their commitment to be there for one another.”

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