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Draper Journal

Corner Canyon unified basketball players learn skills, leadership, cooperation

Mar 30, 2023 01:18PM ● By Julie Slama

Before the awards ceremony at the regional tournament, Corner Canyon High unified student-athletes broke out in a dance for the fans. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

Corner Canyon sophomore Conner Goodwin practiced with his unified basketball team for about a month before their regional tournament.

“I learned more skills and teamwork from my teammates,” he said. “I know I can make a difference and help our team.”

In unified basketball, there are five players on the court—three athletes and two unified partners. Teams play against other squads of the same ability in two eight-minute halves. Supported by Special Olympics and the Utah High School Activities Association, unified sports has both a competitive and a player development level, the latter which provides more of a cooperative environment with partners being teammates and mentors. 

UHSAA referee Paul Madsen said he appreciates unified basketball.

“There’s great sportsmanship,” he said. “Everyone is helping each other. It’s wonderful to see.” 

Goodwin’s mother, Sabrina Beshore, agrees.

“It’s rewarding to see the sportsmanship on the floor,” she said. “The other team will take a shot and we’ll clap or rebound the ball and give them another chance. It’s important that all teams succeed and are cheered on.”

Corner Canyon tied for first in its division; however the team placed second after its tie break, said Courtnie Worthen, Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools manager.

Still, Corner Canyon players qualified and were excited to compete at the March 8 state tournament.

“It means a lot to me that we were recognized as a team,” he said. “I’ve learned how to be a better person and I’ve made more friends through unified basketball. It’s been fun and I’m ready to play more.”

Beshore said her son was “devastated” when a snowstorm pushed back the original date of the regional tournament.

“I’m so grateful it still happened, and that Corner Canyon is participating. I’ve seen real happiness here, but also, I witnessed leadership and cooperation. It’s a great experience for all the students,” she said.

Canyons Education Foundation Officer Denise Haycock helped at the regional tournament and appreciated the partnerships between Jordan and Canyons foundations and the support of sponsors, including Scheels in providing equipment for the unified athletes.

In Utah, involvement in unified high school basketball has skyrocketed. This year, there were the most teams in its history competing to play at state—73 teams competed for 32 state seeds, Worthen said.

At the March 8 state unified basketball tournament, there was plenty of smiles and cheers as Corner Canyon beat Bingham High to take sixth place in its division. Administrators from several school districts and educational foundations joined Gov. Spencer Cox and First Lady Abby Cox to support the competition, which was held at Weber State University.

Abby Cox said she was proud of everyone in the gym.

“Utah, as a state—we are part of the inclusion revolution,” she told them.

Unified sports engages students with and without intellectual disabilities on the same sports teams, leading to not only sports skills development and competition, but also inclusion and friendship, Worthen said.

“Unified sports provides social inclusion opportunities for all teammates to build friendships on and off the court,” she said. “The teammates challenge each other to improve their skills and fitness and at the same time, increase positive attitudes and establish friendships and provide a model of inclusion for the entire school community.”

Unified sports, Worthen said, is included in the Unified Champion Schools model, where a unified team is supported by the entire school and there is inclusive youth leadership and whole school engagement.

“With schools that embrace the Unified Champion Schools model, they create communities where all students feel welcome and are included in all school activities and opportunities. Students feel socially and emotionally secure, they’re more engaged in the school and feel supported, and are respected,” she said. “It changes school climates.”