WEYMOUTH – Cheerful smiles and elbow bumps of congratulations greeted every player in the Weymouth High School gym Monday as Weymouth and Walpole's Unified Basketball teams faced off in a spirited matchup at Weymouth High School.
Each play ignited the crowd, and players screamed their support for teammates, applauded and danced for every shot taken.
Unified Basketball gives students with special needs a chance to play the sport on a team with traditional learning students in games that include a halftime show, jerseys and more. The Weymouth High Wildcat Dance Squad performed at halftime Monday, and Weymouth beat Walpole, 65 to 48.
"It really makes them feel like they belong," said Michael Singer, whose son plays for Weymouth. "It's wonderful to see all of the support."
Weymouth coach Lisa Stokes said Unified Sports has changed the lives of special needs and general education students.
Weymouth, which has been designated a National Banner Unified Champion by Special Olympics Massachusetts, has had a team for the better part of a decade.
“Basketball is a big part of my life and I enjoy playing with the Unified team,” said Javaris Jackson, a junior athlete from Weymouth High. "I really appreciate that my friends came to watch our game."
Stokes has been a coach with the basketball team for more than five years and said she can't help but be proud of her team, win or lose.
“I love my team; everyone does their best. It’s really what sports should be about,” she said.
Student Jamie Lynn Murphy said the games and practices with the Unified teams are the best part of her day.
“You can’t imagine how much fun I have with my teammates now,” she said with a wide smile. “We’ve all become family.”
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Friendship and friendly competition are what drive the team to get better, players said.
"We love to spend time with each other; we're good friends," said Weymouth team member Taylor Whipple, 17, a senior student. "We're really enjoying it."
Kenny Pratt, a rising sophomore on the Weymouth team, said he hopes to play Unified Sports at Boston University.
“I’m having a lot of fun today," Pratt said Monday. "I’m so happy that there were so many people here, and having everyone here watching us play makes everything more fun."
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Reach Wenjing Ding at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on The Patriot Ledger: Weymouth, Walpole square off in Unified Basketball game