By Nance Ebert, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – Shrewsbury is one of the growing number of towns that has embraced a Unified Basketball program for athletes with developmental disabilities and their typical peers who assist them and play alongside them.
There are 80 athletes participating in the Shrewsbury Parks and Recreation Department’s Special Needs Program, with approximately 60 of them playing basketball. There are three unified basketball teams and one team made up of only special needs players. The co-ed teams are divided with one team consisting of ages 8-15, two teams considered to be “seniors” and one team considered to be “masters.”
“The Unified Basketball program is such a special program,” said Dan McGinnis, head coach and parent of athlete Malcolm, 16. “Not only do we get to coach and see the kids do amazing things – both the athletes and the partners – it is so rewarding to watch these kids make baskets, grow up and really become part of the community.”
Team members are eligible to participate in the Special Olympics Massachusetts.
Volunteer Virginia Davidson became involved when her son, Colin, started competing at the age of 11 in soccer. As a parent, she volunteered as much as possible. He is now 33 and still competes.
“This is a very family- and parent-driven organization. These athletes get so much out of participating in a sport and it’s really fun to watch them thrive. There are so many others who volunteer their time as well. They are our real heroes and many of them are not even parents of athletes,” said Davidson.
One of the things that was a huge plus for Davidson, she said, was that getting involved with the Shrewsbury Parks and Recreation and the Special Olympics gave her family the opportunity to meet other families who are going through similar experiences.
“The camaraderie and support we have gotten from other families is immeasurable. The other volunteers are also dedicated to making such a positive experience for each of the participating athletes,” said Davidson.
She explained that Special Olympics Massachusetts teaches students with intellectual disabilities year-round in a variety of sports, including basketball, track and field, skiing, volleyball, bocce, golf, soccer and bowling. This winter Shrewsbury’s athletes will compete in bowling, skiing and basketball.
To be eligible to practice, athletes must be at least 6 years old – 8 years old to compete – and there is no age limit for the athletes. In fact, they range all the way up to the oldest competitor in bowling who is 103 years old.
Right after Thanksgiving, basketball practices begin once a week until the Winter Games Tournament in Worcester in early March. This is an entire weekend of basketball competition with athletes from across the state.
For more information email Angela Snell, Park’s and Recreation director at [email protected] or call 508-841-8503.