Unified Basketball Works to Break the Stigma Around Disabilities

By Camilia Saulino, Reporter

For a long time, sports were just thought to be for able-bodied (and able-minded) males, and after many years, women’s’ sports teams, as well as some co-ed teams, slowly formed and became popular. But until fairly recently, there hasn’t been a team for mentally or physically disabled students, specifically at Cleveland. Unified basketball has changed that.

This accessible and inclusive basketball team has existed for a few years now but just started picking up last year, when the team’s coach, Dominic LaFave was hired as one of Cleveland’s Special Ed teachers.

“Unified basketball is a basketball team composed of half students without disabilities and half students with disabilities. They’re playing together in order to not only have fun and win games but also break down barriers and to disabuse the whole school about stereotypes about people with disabilities,” LeFave explains.

He says the team is an opportunity for everyone to play basketball in a fun and supportive environment and wants to spread the word so they could even start a second team next year.

Getting the word out about Unified basketball is also an excellent way to reduce the stigma around people with disabilities. Along with this, it paves the way for new friendships that may not have been able to be formed otherwise. LeFave hopes that publicizing it more could set off a spark to create more unified clubs and teams.

In addition to this, he looks forward to possibly have a Respect assembly or rally of some sort, based around “trying to change the culture of the school and create more respect for all kinds of differences that students have, including neurodiversity – diversity of the way we think and learn and process information – and break down stereotypes around physical disabilities and just every kind of difference.”

Students on the team love the fact that this sort of team exists and the idea of them. Riley Meske has been playing basketball since he was 13 and has always had the dream of equal and inclusive sports because he thinks that the goal is really just to have fun.

“It feels great because we feel comfortable as a team. I always try to be a part of the team, [including] during basketball games…I’m always involved and try to keep other people involved,” said Meske, a junior.

Miles Rodriguez, another student on the team, agrees, “I like making new friends. It’s fun, it’s competitive, it’s unified, so it can be for anybody. I think it makes the school better place because there have been some peripheral comments about people with disabilities.”

Both Rodriguez and Meske also concur that it would be fun to expand this unity to other sports and activities such as soccer, football, bowling, and golf.

The team has already been doing very well this year, winning all three games in their tournament in Forest Grove last weekend. They’ve moved up to the top bracket, and in March they have a statewide tournament in Wilsonville.

The team’s next home game is at Roosevelt on Feb. 14, and they’re always looking for new players, this year and next. Although the season is already in motion, if you’re looking to join the team and become part of this fun experience, you can talk to Mr. LeFave in room 280.

On top of this, we need continue to spread the word and band together to diminish the stigma around disabilities and differences in all aspects of life.