March is the month for big-time basketball games — professional, college and high school.
I got a head start on March Madness when I saw some big games Saturday. Montgomery County Special Olympics held its eighth annual exhibition of unified basketball at Blessed Sacrament School in Chevy Chase. The gym was packed with cheerleaders, parents and friends. The walls were covered with posters made by third- and fourth-graders at the school. And all the elementary, middle and high school unified teams were playing hard and having fun.
So what’s unified basketball? It’s a program in which players with mental (and sometimes physical) disabilities play with kids who are volunteers, called unified partners. In basketball, the unified partners rebound, pass and sometimes push a special athlete’s wheelchair.
As Brian Ross, a seventh-grader at St. Albans School in Washington, explained to me, “You just try to help and get everyone involved.”
I’ve been watching unified teams practice for weeks, and the games are like most kids’ games. Pamela Yerg, the director of Special Olympics in Montgomery County, says sports are a great way for special athletes to work on their skills, get exercise and make friends.