Corner Canyon unified athletes snag third place in basketball, gear up for soccer tournamentMay 20, 2021 09:45AM ● By Julie Slama
Corner Canyon High’s unified basketball team was cheered March 9 when they finished third in the Salt Lake regional unified basketball tournament. (Julie Slama/City Journals)
By Julie Slama | [email protected]
Leading up to the slated May 1 regional tournament, Corner Canyon High’s unified soccer team laced up their cleats and shoes to practice passing, dribbling and shooting.
The team, composed of both athletes and partners, play on the field together, with equal participation as they form friendships over a shared interest in sports, said John Evans, a special education teacher who also coaches the team.
Unified soccer is a coed sport, playing five-on-five on a field about one-fourth the size of a regulation field.
Many of the Chargers are fresh off of competing in unified basketball where seven athletes and three partners teamed up to take third place in the Salt Lake region. It was Corner Canyon High’s second year participating in unified basketball.
“We got an email asking if we’d like to participate,” Evans said. “They were down to play as a team. My kids are crazy about basketball and most are huge Utah Jazz fans; they’re obsessed with them.”
This year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, regional tournaments were held in basketball as well as soccer instead of a state contest to reduce potential spread of the disease through fewer competitors and fans at a site, said Courtnie Worthen, Unified Champion Schools manager who oversees the unified program.
“We’re operating at the same way as other sports teams, with testing for COVID prior to playing,” she said, adding that teams also wore masks on the sidelines as well as sanitized their hands and basketballs.
This year, 13 teams competed around the state in unified basketball, down from 22 last year. Last year’s season came to an abrupt end before the state tournament when the COVID-19 cases began spreading in Utah. Soccer team numbers were up, to about 20 teams this year.
“Playing in unified sports is very important for persons with disabilities as it gives them a chance to interact; it may be one of their only opportunities to socialize,” Worthen said.
It also leads to more active lifestyles since many students with disabilities tend to live more sedentary lifestyles, and it gives them a chance to learn or practice their skills in sports, she said.
Evans said that he tried to incorporate as much movement as possible when teaching basketball skills.
“I teach a healthy lifestyle and make sure they understood by doing; that is golden. Many students can be out of shape sitting on their tushes, and it’s a big tragedy not being active at all. All students are happier when they’re active,” he said.
For their peer mentors, it teaches them empathy and a chance to include and interact with their peers who have disabilities, Worthen added.
Evans agreed: “They learn these students show abiding love and benefit from the spirit of these very special souls. They learn their compassion and kindness to everyone.”
Unified sports is a mutually beneficial program, Worthen said.
“The best things are the inclusion, the friendships they create, how the athletes are celebrated and are included in school activities,” she said.
Unified basketball is in its second year while soccer was established seven years ago about the same time as unified track.
“Most of the schools prefer team sports so we haven’t put as much emphasis on track,” she said, adding that both soccer and track are sanctioned UHSAA sports.
Before the Chargers took to the basketball tournament, Evans worked with students about 15 minute each class period to teach skills—shooting, running, passing as well as solid defense, which was apparent during the tournament as their opponents had a hard time bringing up the ball without turning it over or having it stolen.
However, what he didn’t teach, they knew how to do—celebrate and have fun as during half-time or after they played a game, they’d dance with their opponents for the fans.
“Those kids love to dance; they were born to dance,” Evans said. “The kids really love unified sports since it is so much fun and love belonging to a team and having pride in their school.”