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‘Great Experience’ School District Looks To Expand Unified Sports Teams

Pictured is the 2023 Jamestown High School unified basketball team. Jamestown Public Schools is looking at expanding its unified competitive sports teams, according to Ben Drake, athletic director. Submitted photo

Young people with intellectual disabilities often do not get a chance to play on their school’s sports teams or compete in front of a live crowd.

Jamestown High School is looking to expand those opportunities with additional unified sports teams. JHS is one of several school districts locally that have made it a priority to focus on student athletic inclusion, using the Special Olympics unified sporting model as a guide.

Within Section 6 of the New York Public High School Athletic Association, only bocce is offered. However, this is something JHS and its athletic director are looking to expand upon and grow.

“We are definitely interested in expanding our unified program. At this point, the only other program that Section 6 offers is Unified Bocce,” said Ben Drake, Jamestown High School athletic director. “There are only a couple of teams who participate in that, but certainly something to consider in the future.”

While JHS is in its second year of offering unified sporting teams, this is the first year it has fielded a competitive bowling team, which appears to have been well-received thus far, according to the team’s head coach.

“It is going extremely well. There is a lot of enthusiasm and excitement on the team. The kids are looking forward to our first match this week,” said Karen Drake, the unified bowling and basketball teams head coach. “We have 15 team members, seven athletes and eight partners.”

Unified sports, especially at the high school, pairs students who may be “intellectually disabled” with other students to form partners to compete at high levels of competition and inclusion.

“The Unified program has been such a great experience. Our ‘athletes’ really enjoy participating in competitive athletics and everything that comes with that. The ‘partners,’ which are the students who participate alongside the athletes to help them participate successfully, have also really enjoyed the experience as well,” Ben Drake said. “I believe it is very rewarding for them.”

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