Unified Basketball Tournament Fills Gym With Fans, Smiles

It’s tourney time! And six basketball teams from Whatcom County high schools joined in on the fun at the first Unified Culminating Tournament on Thursday night, Feb. 27, at Sehome High School.

Unified basketball is one of the sports under the Special Olympics umbrella. Whatcom County schools also compete in unified soccer, bowling, volleyball and robotics. 

While unified basketball has been played locally for three years, this is the first season that standings were kept and a season-ending tournament was played. Burlington-Edison and Sedro-Woolley also had teams in the league and tournament.

The length of the games is shorter, the teams are coed, and in addition to the athletes with intellectual disabilities, there were fellow student “partners” on the court to help facilitate the game. Other than that, it’s basketball just like the varsity teams play.

“It’s a real sport,” said Dominique Lantagne, a special education teacher and the Special Olympics coordinator for the Bellingham Public Schools. “Our goal is to have it relationally embedded in the school buildings between all the students.”

It certainly was relationally embedded Thursday night. The teams played in front of large and encouraging crowds in Sehome’s main and auxiliary gyms … crowds that would make many varsity teams jealous.

There might not have been as many points as in a varsity game but there were certainly as many smiles as athletes, fans, and even cheerleaders rooted not only for their own teams but for the opposing players.

And while winning wasn’t the only thing, scores were kept just like for any other Northwest Conference games, and, just like in any other tournament, a champion was crowned.

Here’s Thursday’s results:

First round (loser out)
Bellingham 26, Northern Lights (north county schools) 18
Sehome 19, Sedro-Woolley 18
Ferndale 33, Squalicum Blue 31 OT
Burlington-Edison 28, Squalicum Silver 26

Semifinals
Bellingham 17, Sehome 14
Burlington-Edison 24, Ferndale 10

Consolation final
Ferndale 11, Sehome 9 (third and fourth place)

Championship final
Bellingham 18, Burlington-Edison 15 (first and second place)
Congratulations to all the Unified players and coaches, and thank you to the Sehome staff who made it such a great event and, we hope, the first of many more to come.

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