Area Teams Gather for Unified Basketball Tournament

On a Saturday in February, several area teams gathered at Windsor Locks High School for the first annual North Central Connecticut Conference Unified Sports tournament.

Teams from Ellington, Somers, Stafford, Windsor Locks, and Canton came together for a full day of basketball, fun, and camaraderie.

Unified sports teams, which are growing in the area, pair special needs athletes with “buddies” who help facilitate the play.

Stafford Athletic Director Damian Frassinelli said that the backdrop to Unified sports is social inclusion.

“I always tell people, it’s not about basketball – that’s just the vessel that we have to get these different groups together, which benefits both sides equally,” he said. “It is a great time. To see the faces just tells it all. People are happy, they’re comfortable, and there are no lines here. Everybody is together, just having a great day.”

Frasinelli said that the North Central Connecticut Conference has a number of unified basketball programs, so the idea arose to get them all together.

“There are some great tournaments for CIAC, but we don’t know all those schools. So, we thought, get all our people together,” he said.

From there, everything started to fall into place. Frassinelli said that there were many donations made – everything from food to time to services – and that there were many people who wanted to be part of the day.

“It’s unbelievable,” he said.

The band from Stafford High School and cheerleaders from Ellington and Windsor Locks High schools were there to help cheer on all the athletes – regardless of what color uniform they were wearing.

Special t-shirts were also made up to commemorate the day and to spread the word about Unified sports.

“The t-shirts are supposed to carry the message after today. With the smiley face and ‘Be Unified,’” said Frassinelli. “They’ll love to wear it. Everywhere they go, people will ask about it and they’ll talk about it and it will bring more attention to it. That’s a good thing.”

Click here for a full gallery of the event.

Tolland Unified Eagles

Tolland High School is participating in its 5th season in the sport of Unified Basketball. This year, Tolland has two Unified basketball teams, coached by Beth Regan and Amy Steed who have coached the program since its inception.

The teams practice during the traditional basketball season from the end of November through mid-March. Unified basketball is a co-ed program and competes in games with other area high schools and exhibition games at halftimes of the boy’s and girls’ varsity teams and CIAC and CCC tournaments. Tolland, in conjunction with the CIAC, hosts a tournament every year in early March.

Unified Sports is a registered program with the CIAC (Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference) and Special Olympics that combines approximately equal numbers of athletes with and without intellectual disability on sports teams for training and competition. As athletes and partners train and compete together, they foster ties that develop into friendships both on and off the athletic field.

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