Jordan unified basketball takes gold, form bonds heading into unified soccer seasonMay 10, 2021 11:17AM ● By Julie Slama
Jordan High unified basketball team added two points with a layup in its victory over Corner Canyon en route to winning the Salt Lake regional unified basketball tournament. (Julie Slama/City Journals)
By Julie Slama | [email protected]
They had an inside and outside game, hitting threes after the defense collapsed on their layups. They could pick a pocket and make plays to win the Salt Lake area regional tournament.
Earning the first-place medal wasn’t the goal for Jordan High’s unified basketball team, said coach Dave Mecham in his second-year of coaching this team.
“It was fun,” he said. “With unified sports, we want them to try the whole time and have a good understanding of the skills. A lot of these kids are into sports, but don’t have the chance to make the school team so this is a chance for them to play, make friends and shine.”
Already, these players have traded in their basketball shoes for cleats as they plan to compete in the unified soccer tournament slated for May 1 at Murray High.
The team, composed of both athletes and partners, play on the field together, with equal participation as they form friendships, get to play together and have fun, Mecham said.
Unified soccer is a coed sport, playing five-on-five on a field about one-fourth the size of a regulation field. Jordan has participated in unified soccer since 2016.
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.
For their peer mentors, such as Jordan High’s DECA members, it teaches them empathy and a chance to include and interact with their peers who have disabilities, Worthen added.
“It’s a mutually beneficial program,” she said. “The best things are the inclusion, the friendships they create, how the athletes are celebrated and are included in school activities.”
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.
Mecham said that if Jordan High expands to include unified track, he’d be interested in coaching. But for now, of the approximate 150 Jordan students with disabilities, Mecham said he has the same base team in both sports, along with many of the same partners.
He also hopes some boys soccer team members will help mentor the athletes in passing drills.
“It gives them a chance to know and play sports with new friends and have fun,” he said. “With basketball, we had two or three practices where we went over simple defense—put your hands up—and a simple offensive play where we directed the players to move here and look for the ball. We told them if you’re open, shoot. They already had a good understanding of it. But soccer is our sport. They know if you see someone open, hook them a pass, or if you’re close, shoot.”
The fun comes in watching the team come together, form friendships, bond with their opponent and celebrate afterward.
“We always have a celebratory pizza party afterward,” he said, adding that he’s uncertain what it will look like this year during the pandemic. “These students create a connection and remain friends.”