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West Jordan Journal

First year of Copper Hills unified basketball team laced up, ready to play

Mar 31, 2023 02:29PM ● By Julie Slama

Copper Hills High sophomore Sammie Miller gets a high-five5 from the referee after scoring a basket against Lone Peak at the state unified basketball championships. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

Given offense or defense on the basketball court, Copper Hills unified student-athlete Alex Roberts is all about the baskets.

“I like scoring points, shooting threes, chasing down the balls,” the high school junior said. “Playing and hanging out with my friends is awesome.”

He was playing along two partner athletes, juniors Tacy Merrill and Ava Basinger.

“It’s so much fun when these kids make shots,” Merrill said. “They just beam they’re so happy. We have a lot of people here to watch our team and when they score, the whole crowd cheers them on in excitement.” 

While it’s the first year Copper Hills has had a basketball team, Basinger has helped with its unified track program.

“Unified sports is good for everyone; the athletes are happy and it’s a cool thing to be a part of and to cheer for,” she said, adding that the tournament was held as part of inclusion week, which offered dress up days, afterschool games and a chance to pledge support for inclusion. The school also holds a special needs prom.

The three student-athletes were playing together at the regional unified basketball tournament Copper Hills hosted in early March. Teammate sophomore Corbin Roesbery took the athlete oath on behalf of all the athletes.

In unified basketball, teams have 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.” 

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, said Courtnie Worthen, Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools manager.

Copper Hills tied for first place in its first-ever tournament play and won its division after the tie break, Worthen said.

At the March 8 state unified basketball tournament, there were smiles and cheers when the team beat the tough competition of Hillcrest High to place second in its division. 

In In addition, Jordan School District was honored with the District of the Year Award for Unified Sports in Utah. 

“I love cheering for our athletes; they make us proud and represent us so well,” said Jordan Education Foundation President Dawn Ramsey, who along with JEF Executive Director Mike Haynes and Jordan District Superintendent Anthony Godfrey accepted the award. “Unified Sports is an incredible program and Jordan District has been a leader in the state as the first to implement a program districtwide. Special Olympics Utah, First Lady Abby Cox with her Show Up initiative, and the Jordan Education Foundation have been wonderful partners in supporting this effort.”

Administrators from several school districts and educational foundations joined the First Lady and Gov. Spencer Cox to support the competition that 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 engagesengage 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.”