Unified basketball has come to Hewlett High School, as the team debuted at Lawrence High School on May 1.
Hewlett-Woodmere Athletic Director David Viegas said the idea for a unified basketball team came about roughly a year ago. “I was meeting with other athletic directors and they were discussing how great unified basketball is for their respective schools,” he said. “I realized that this is something where the kids can participate with no exclusions. So I went to our superintendent to discuss it.”
Unified basketball was founded in 2008 and is an inclusive sports program that unites Special Olympics athletes and partners (people without intellectual disabilities). According to specialolympics.org, globally 1.4 million people take part in unified sports. Some of the rules are: three students with intellectual disabilities and two partners are on the court at the same time, no shot clock and there are three-point shots.
Viegas found a coach in Hewlett boys’ varsity basketball head coach Bill Dubin. “We are treating this as a bona fide varsity sport and Bill was the perfect person to get this team up and running,” Viegas said.
Dubin is also a special education teacher at Hewlett High, and has been coaching there for more than 30 years. He immediately realized that it would be a great to become involved. “As a special education teacher, I realized that this team was a great way to get everybody involved,” he said. “I knew I wasn’t going to do this if it wasn’t done the right way. Fortunately, this school district always does things the right way when it comes to athletics.”
The opening contest had a big-game feel as the players were all introduced by a PA announcer, the national anthem was played and Lawrence had their band on the sidelines. “I didn’t even know beforehand that Lawrence’s band would be there,” Viegas said. “I give Lawrence credit for making it a great atmosphere for the kids.”
Viegas noted that he wasn’t sure how many students would sign up for the team before the season. By the time of the first game, the team had 10 members. “I didn’t know what to expect at first with this team,” he said before the game against Lawrence. “But so far, this is off to a good start. I can already tell that the kids are having a blast with it.” Viegas pointed to ninth-grade student Ariana Siegel hitting a shot and she “couldn’t stop smiling for the whole game.”
Hewlett High School 10th-grader Josh Tepper is a team member. He tried out for the varsity basketball team, but didn’t make it. Despite that, Tepper saw unified basketball as a great activity. “I love playing basketball and I saw this as a great opportunity to be able to help others,” he said. “This team is great for our community and it’s exciting to be apart of.”
Dubin is already excited about the team’s future. “On the day of the first game, all the kids wore matching T-shirts to school. I can already see the camaraderie among the team,” he said. “Next year, I’m already planning on ordering the team unified basketball jerseys.”
The team is having a breakfast, then a game on May 11, against East Rockaway High.