By BRIAN JENNINGS
The images of smiles, laughter, and one helping another in need filled the Southington High School gymnasium. The arms of players were stretched out across teammates’ backs while helping them down the court.
The shorter baskets were tipped for those that couldn’t reach the hoop. If shots were missed on the first try, the ball was given back to the shooter for two more tries.
“They were truly enjoying it,” said Southington athletic director Greg Ferry. “Everyone’s clapping for them when they make a basket. The best part of the day was just to see them feel great about themselves.”
Southington’s unified sports team hosted a basketball tournament on Tuesday, March 20 that featured Southington middle schools and teams from Bristol and Cheshire. Ferry was on hand for the action, and said that it’s one of the best events that the athletic department runs all year long.
“Truly, it culminates all the things that we’re trying to do in athletics,” said Ferry. “If you look at all the student-athletes that participated today, they all had a positive attitude.”
Ferry said that the athletes that participated also had a great response to whatever life situation they were in.
“They had great determination, integrity, and true excellence when you see all the schools getting together…and the sportsmanship,” said Ferry. “There are no parents yelling at officials at an event like this. It’s just a wonderful time, and I can’t thank the talented people that we have here enough.”
Sherwin-Williams, at 405 Queen St., was also on hand for Tuesday’s festivities after donating their time and money to feed every athlete that participated, following the games. Managers from the local paint and wallpaper store helped hand out pizza to the athletes.
Their charitable generosity was a sure win.
“They reached out to me and asked what they could do to help or get involved in the community,” said Southington unified sports coach and retired Southington High School teacher Marguerite Maddalena. “Somehow unified sports came up, so I guess our name is out there. I think the world of them for thinking of us to help out.”
Maddalena has been running this basketball tournament for about five years now. There are so many schools in Connecticut now that have unified sports teams, but there are very few tournaments that unified sports teams can go to.
Maddalena said that she’s been urged over the years for unified sports to have their own tournaments.
“I find this to be wonderful,” said Maddalena. “It’s a lot of planning and little ends to pull up, but as you can see, the outcome is fantastic. We just need more opportunities to play, and this is something that gives us another opportunity.”
Besides the basketball, Maddalena said that they’re looking for fellowship and bonding. With pizza offered after the games, athletes sat intermingled with other schools, getting to know each on another level.
“It’s great for these kids to feel part of and feel successful,” said Maddalena. “It makes the kids’ lives a little bit more enrich, but in reality, it makes my life more enriched. I retired, but I couldn’t retire from unified sports.”
Maddalena said that they’ve been inviting the middle schools for the past two years so that they have an opportunity to see what unified sports is like at the high school level, so that they’re not intimidated by it when they come up. During the spring season, Southington’s unified team is set to host the unified track and field event in May, which is on course to welcoming in about 20 different schools from around the area, according to Ferry.
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