by Colin Hickey
Senior Tyler Ward, one of four seasoned veterans on the Messalonskee Unified Basketball Team, prides himself on his versatile skills on the court.
“I see myself as an all-around player,” he said, “because some kids can’t do all the stuff.”
Ward, who is a big fan of the Golden State Warriors, would be happy to end the season with a championship, but that is not the primary reason he plays basketball. “I can get competitive,” he said, “and I like winning, but when it comes right down to it, I just want to have fun.”
That attitude is what makes Messalonskee Unified Team head coach Tommy Hill delighted to be part of the program, which is now in its fourth year statewide. Unified basketball teams unite students with developmental disabilities (termed “athletes”) with mainstream students (termed “helpers”) in a cooperative athletic venture.
According to Unified Basketball rules, teams can have no more than two mainstream students on the court at any time. “It is what you wish high school athletics would be for everybody,” coach Hill said, “because everything is positive.”
Ward is one of four athletes on the Messalonskee team who has played for the Unified Team since its inception three years ago. The other veterans are Marc Cote, Dakota Pike, and Nicole Reinehr.
Along with the fun of the sport itself, Ward said he loves the interaction with other players and the supportive nature of everybody on the team.
Junior Abbie Clark, who is in her second year with the team, is another athlete who has found the experience rewarding. She said the support comes from the fans as well as from teammates.
“I love it,” she said. “It is my favorite sport to do. All my friends come to cheer for me.”
Coach Hill said the atmosphere surrounding a Unified Basketball game is always positive for all involved, players and fans alike. “There’s no yelling at officials or at kids,” he said. “People respond to good plays made by players on either team.”
To view the Messalonskee Unified team’s schedule click here.