March Madness is coming to the Conejo!

Inclusion, engagement, and fun are at the center of Conejo Valley Unified School District’s new Unified Basketball League.

Every Tuesday at lunch Thousand Oaks High School students with intellectual disabilities (athletes), and students without intellectual disabilities (Unified Partners) meet on the basketball court. Their goal? To practice a fun sport together as teammates, form friendships, and prepare for upcoming basketball games in March against Newbury Park High School, Westlake High School, and other Ventura County high school unified teams.

This is the first year that Unified Basketball Teams have formed at all three comprehensive CVUSD high schools. Each school has developed a unique model of stewardship for their new Unified Basketball Programs. At Westlake High School the Varsity Boys Basketball Coach is acting as the Unified Team’s coach. At Newbury Park High School the Slam Dunkers club is providing coaching to the Unified Team. Meanwhile, at Thousand Oaks High School students from the Wrestling, Swim, and Football teams have volunteered to be part of the team, and will participate in the basketball tournament as Unified Partners. 

At all three schools the Unified Teams are comprised of approximately half athletes and half Unified Partners. The Unified Partners are not necessarily students who play basketball for the school, but can be any student who is interested in participating on the team.

“I’m excited to start the Thousand Oaks High School Unified Club because it will offer leadership opportunities, and training for students with and without intellectual disabilities,” Melissa Martin, Adapted Physical Education Teacher at Thousand Oaks High School said. “All students will gain from this enriching experience.”

The formation of the Unified Basketball League in the CVUSD was made possible thanks to the passion and dedication of the District’s Special Education Department. Adapted Physical Education Teacher Sammi Stewart, and Teacher on Special Assignment Special Education Inclusion, Samantha Farkas formed the league by together applying  for each school to be an official Special Olympics Unified Champion School. According to their website, the Special Olympics Unified Champion School program is, “aimed at promoting social inclusion through intentionally planned and implemented activities affecting systems-wide change […] This is accomplished by implementing inclusive sports, inclusive youth leadership opportunities, and whole school engagement.”

With their formal recognition as Unified Champion Schools, each school will receive $2,000 in grant monies from the Special Olympics. The grant monies will be used to help cover costs associated with this new program, such as uniforms, and travel.

“Samantha and I are very pleased to have support from the Special Education Department, Special Olympics, the administration at each school site, the teachers and coaches who are training our athletes, and of course, our students in developing this inclusive basketball league,” Sammi Stewart, Adapted Physical Education Teacher said. “As a mother of a son with an intellectual disability, and an Adapted PE Teacher I am thrilled to work in a school district that supports inclusion and allows us to step out of our comfort zones to create an awesome whole school engagement that fosters inclusion.”

The teams are currently practicing once a week, and are gearing up for their first games.

The community is invited to cheer on the inaugural games of this program, by attending an upcoming game. The tentative schedule of round robin style games is:

Friday, March 15th at 10:30am
Newbury Park High School

Wednesday, March 20th at 10:30am
Westlake High School

Monday, March 25th at 10:30am
Thousand Oaks High School

CVUSD is proud to continue to offer students new opportunities for inclusion, collaboration, and fun.

“Sports and physical education are a perfect way to develop social bonds between students with disabilities and without that will hopefully transcend past their time in high school,” Stewart said. “Thank you to everyone who has assisted with this endeavor.”

Learn more about Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools here.

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