Thanks to a partnership between Special Olympics Delaware and the DIAA, high school unified sports continue to grow. Heading toward the back end of the 2018-2019 school year, there are varsity teams in flag football, track and field and basketball.
Unified sports, where high school students with and without disabilities play on the same team, has made its mark on Milford High School in track and field and, most recently, basketball.
Thanks to dedicated students and staff who worked together to make it happen, Milford has been a part of unified basketball’s inaugural season.
“The unified program for Delaware is relatively new. This is the first official season, after last year’s trial season, to see what the program would look like,” said head coach Nick Jefferson. “We knew that Special Olympics Delaware was starting this and that we were interested in being a part of it, we just weren’t sure about details.”
Jefferson gave a lot of the credit to school counselor Kate Lynch, who was a big part of getting a unified hoops team to Milford.
“She is the one who handles all the administrative behind-the-scenes things that a lot of people don’t realize go on,” Jefferson said. “She has been our biggest supporter and is one of the big reasons why we have a team.”
Jefferson is no stranger to the cause, having worked with both the Special Olympics and the DFRC hand-in-hand program.
“When they asked if I was interested in coaching it was an easy yes,” he said. “I got to build relationships that last a lifetime and that is my ultimate goal.”
The team has played three of six regular season games. In their short time together, they’ve shown what the program is all about.
“It is an outlet for some of the players that wouldn’t have the opportunity to play basketball otherwise,” Jefferson said. “Milford High School is very lucky to have the students we do involved in this program and I think it’s a great start to something that can be much bigger.
“I think the biggest surprise has been how well they all pick each other up. There is constant encouragement, and when you are able to build an environment where the athletes feel comfortable they really start to open up.”
Along with the team on the court, Jefferson said the support from the administration has been second to none.
“We are extremely lucky to have the support that we have at all levels,” Jefferson said. “I would not be able to do this without the help of my administration and my other coach, Aaron Rill.” Jefferson said the goals go beyond wins, championships or anything to do with basketball.
“Even only after three games, we have the school talking about Special Olympics and unified sports,” Jefferson said. “The end goal for this program is to have built relationships and increased awareness that all of our students should have equal opportunities to show their competitive side in sports and be included in everything. These young adults are the future of the community, and one day they’ll be able to make decisions. If we build awareness now, the only way to go is up.”
Thursday, Feb. 7 v. Cape Henlopen 4 p.m.
Tuesday, Feb. 12 v. Indian River 4:30 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 16 at Caesar Rodney noon