By Melanie Petrucci, Senior Community Reporter
Shrewsbury – Last year, the Sherwood and Oak middle schools teamed up and formed a Unified Basketball team. They were scheduled to play their first game March 12, about the same time schools closed due to the coronavirus.
The game did not go on as planned, even though a pep rally had been planned and students wore Shrewsbury colors blue and gold in preparation for the game. Despite that disappointment, however, because of the efforts of the students, their peer partners and the coaches, the schools were recently designated as Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools.
Unified sports pair special needs students with peer mentors. The goal is to build a community of inclusion.
Sherwood Middle School Principal Jonathan Kelly was involved in a similar program as an assistant principal in Grafton, prior to coming to Shrewsbury. He said the reason he is such a strong advocate of the program is “seeing students being transformed just by having conversations [with their peer partners] and … seeing how happy and positive they are.”
Kelly credited Assistant Superintendent Meg Belsito for helping to get the program up and running. She was instrumental in establishing the Unified Team at Shrewsbury High School which has been hugely successful and was awarded the same designation in the fall of 2019.
“I know it is something that the district had been talking about for a few years,” Kelly said. “Part of their vision under Meg Belsito was to not only get it started at the high school but to look for ways to get programs like that started at the lower levels.”
While games are still on hold, Kelly is hoping to get the season underway as soon as it is safe.
“I talk to the kids all the time here about one of our core values which is respect,” he remarked. “It’s about being kind to everybody regardless of their skin colors and their abilities.”