Nottingham Students Break Down Stereotypes with Unified Basketball TeamThe Nottingham Unified Basketball team suffered a tough loss against ESM this season.
Senior Muzamil Kaila had played JV and Varsity basketball and football through his high school career – he was used to the feeling of defeat after such a heavy loss. A blanket of sadness and anger would often descend over the teams, he said. But with the Unified team, things were different.
“Right after the game, we were waiting for our bus – it was a little late,” Muzamil explained. “So we started playing some pickup basketball while we waited. It was so fun! Everyone forgot about the game… there was so much laughter and heart. The other teams I’ve been on, there was a lot of ego, a lot of competition within the team. But the Unified team feels like a true family. We take care of one another, look out for one another. There’s a lot of love.”
Unified teams, sponsored by Section III Athletics and Special Olympics New York, are inclusive teams, comprised of players both with and without intellectual disabilities. There is a focus on ensuring that each player is given an opportunity to contribute, providing all players with the ability to be leaders.
The Nottingham team, now in its second year, enjoyed a 7-game season this year – hosting three games at home and traveling for four others, finishing with a 5-2 winning record.
For Xavier and Ezekiel Perea, both freshmen, it was their first experience playing organized sports.
“I’ve always liked basketball,” Xavier shared. “I’ve played since I was 8! I want to support the Bulldogs and be part of a team, and this is the first time I’ve played on a team. It’s been the best experience… the team, the players, our opponents. We had so much support. All schools should have different teams like this so there are more opportunities for everyone to meet other students and build their skills in sports.”
“I wanted to join the team so I could get more active and meet people and make new friends and travel to play different teams,” Ezekiel added. “My favorite part has been meeting people and having fun with the coaches and the rest of the team. Even just practicing and getting to know everyone has been great.”
Coach Dan Jones said Xavier’s sentiment is part of the objective of the Nottingham Unified Team.
“My favorite memories from this season are some of the hard conversations I had with a few players who were reluctant to play at first,” Coach Jones said. “They were nervous about playing a team sport, with fans and against other schools or they didn't have much confidence in their skills. Once they signed up and we got started, it was a total flip of what they were feeling before. I think these students who were nervous to join ended up being the ones who enjoyed it the most and got the most out of the experience. Seeing their attitudes change and their growth over the season really made it worthwhile for me. Having unified basketball at Nottingham really helped the school grow as a family. Seeing such great support from both faculty and the student body really showed how impactful unified basketball can be.”
Coach Steve Cook, a Nottingham alumnus himself, said the team represented something larger than the sport of basketball.
“With all the troublesome and complicated issues going on in our community and around the world, the Unified Season gave me a sense of hope,” Coach Cook explained. “The effort, encouragement, sportsmanship and teamwork displayed by all the Unified Teams and fans proved that, at our core, people can find peace and joy regardless of our differences. My fondest memories come from when our team and fans cheered on the opposing team’s players after they made a nice play or scored a basket. I am so proud of this team. All the players, regardless of our differences, have become good friends and continue to support and encourage each other on and off the court.”
Muzamil agreed, noting the importance – for all involved – of unified sports.
“For my senior year, I wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself and build connections with other players and have lots of fun with them,” he explained. “The unified team really brings people together. It eliminates stereotypes. It gets kids more involved and breaks down a lot of barriers that are sometimes put up for no reason at all.”
What a great opportunity for all of our student athletes to expand their skills in athletics and beyond! The District eventually plans to expand the unified basketball program into all SCSD high schools, as well as introduce unified bowling.
Written by Karin Davenport, Communications Specialist