Pictured at the recent Buccaneer Unified Club Sports (BUCS) game in which both regular and special education, intellectually disabled students played together as teammates are (standing, left to right) Nick Arnone, Lauren Keale, Zoey Kallerher, Michael Eulner, Stephen Navitzky; (kneeling) Sarah Keale and Diana Santamaria Delgado.

Press release from Red Bank Regional High School

This past year, Red Bank Regional High School Athletic Director Del DalPra was able to secure a $3,500 grant from the Special Olympics Organization with the aim of becoming a Special Olympics Unified School.

RBR joins over 4,300 middle and high schools in the United States which have adopted this program, in which able-bodied kids play side by side with special education children who are intellectually disabled. According to the Unified Olympic website, “Unified Sports is also an integral part of the Special Olympics Unified Strategy for Schools, which was founded in 2008 and funded through the U.S. Department of Education to use Special Olympics as a way to build inclusion and tolerance in schools.”

The winter basketball program included eight special education students from the school’s “self-contained” program, and 18 regular education students. All were equal participants in the program and all had an equally great time playing a competitive basketball game every Tuesday night over the past two months. The name of the team, BUCS, is an appropriate acronym for Buccaneer Unified Club Sports.

RBR athletic director Del Dal Pra addresses his Buccaneer Unified Club Sports basketball players, following their last game in February.

“We had been doing this already without the Special Olympic designation in track and bowling,” said Del Pra. “This grant allows us to expand to a basketball program, which we just concluded in February, and to add a soccer program in the fall.

“Additionally, as a Special Olympic School, our kids have the opportunity to compete with other Unified teams in the Shriver Cup which is held in April for Basketball in Princeton.”

One afternoon found Diana Santamaria Delgado of Red Bank running up and down the basketball court, enthusiastically waving her hands for someone to throw her the ball. Being of a small stature, she received instruction from her peers on how to move under the basket and throw the ball from a deep underhand position. On several tries, her throws skimmed the rim just before bouncing off. Undeterred, she tried again.

Other special education players, however, are regularly making baskets from all sides of the court. Their sheer pleasure of achievement is broadcast by their brilliant smiles.

RBR instructional aide Anne Brennen comments, “The amazing thing was how much better the students have improved in their athletic and social skills.”

Echoing that observation, Del Dal Pra adds, “All of our kids’ basketball skills have improved tremendously, but their social relationships have improved, which was the goal of the whole program. That is the great thing about sports; it tends to bring everyone together.”

RBR junior class president Michael Eulner, who joined the program when he was injured in  his football season and was able to help as an assistant coach, comments that “I was surprised on how well everyone got along and everyone played together as one team. The special education kids sit right next to us now at our lunch table. They have become more comfortable with us. We have all became friends.”