Longmont's Silver Creek hosts tourney placing unity over competition
March 3, 2018, 9:46am | St Vrain Valley School District
By Sydney Worth, Daily Camera
By Sydney Worth, Daily Camera
For students of St. Vrain Valley high schools, basketball doesn't discriminate.
Special needs students and traditional students gathered on Saturday morning for an inaugural basketball tournament against schools.
Silver Creek High School set the scene for friendly competition between various Unified Basketball teams. The program focuses on bringing students with special needs together with typical athletes similar to the Special Olympics.
Kyle Schuyler, the athletic director for Silver Creek High school, helped organize Saturday's event. He and other organizers sought to create a positive environment that gives participants a fun way to provide support. He said he hoped to "see the community and kids cheering for each other."
Emma Maldoff, a senior from Mead High School, said that making new friends has been her favorite part about participating in the program.
Erin and Christian Maldoff, Emma's parents, believe it's not only a great way to get Emma involved in her school, but help other students empathize with kids like her.
"The priority is the involvement and the awareness for those kids that maybe don't understand what it's like," Erin Maldoff said. This is one of the reasons the Maldoffs liked Mead High School.
St. Vrain Valley School District was the first to roll out the program back in 2014 with Silver Creek being the first to implement it. Over 700 high school students in the district have disabilities on a physical or learning level, according to a statement made by Jackie Whittington, executive director of student services for the St. Vrain district in a 2014 interview.
The unified basketball team is entirely volunteer-based. Typical students, or partner athletes, work with the special education kids once a week for 30 minutes.
Special needs students receive coaching on typical drills and techniques in basketball all while learning how to work within a team. The competitive atmosphere of basketball gives students the opportunity to work together toward a collective goal.
While the program places its focus on facilitating a fun environment for special needs students, Schuyler has found that partner athletes develop leadership skills, as well.
Adam Peña, a senior at Longmont High School, has been participating in the program for the past couple years.
He said, "It's a great way to give back," and at the end of the day, partner athletes are there to be friends.
"Everybody loves sports. It brings them together," Peña said. "It's a valuable opportunity. It brings that aspect of connection."
While special needs students play in competitive district games, the tournament didn't include the same competitive element. Each team played three games without taking score — Saturday was about the fun of the game.
"The best part is seeing the joy it brings them," Peña said.
Trace Lindemann, facing, has high fives for Cole Smith, as Sierra Noel looks on during a Unified Sports basketball tournament Saturday at Silver Creek High School in Longmont. (Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer)