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Eugene high schools expand 'unified basketball,' look to add more sports

High schoolers play basketball with a band in the background.
Karen Richards
Churchill won the game against North Eugene, 24-17.

A new high school sports program in Eugene is gaining momentum. The season’s first unified basketball game was held at North Eugene High School on Feb. 20.

In front of a large crowd and energized by the UO band, students with intellectual and developmental disabilities competed alongside school partners. Game play was cooperative, and the cheers were loud.

A woman in a blue shirt smiles at the camera
Karen Richards
Michelle Dunn

Michelle Dunn is Eugene 4J’s Adapted PE Specialist, and runs the program. She said it gives these students a chance to be part of a team.

“I think once families and students truly understand and see what unified sports can be about—leadership and togetherness, and motor skills, social skills—people are drawn to it," she said, "they’re engaged, and we need more of that to bring us together.”

Dunn said last year, there was just one unified game, between Churchill and Sheldon. She said students from other schools spurred the expansion. This year, all four large 4J high schools will host a game, and each team will play twice.

Dunn said the students’ excitement is contagious. She runs the program in cooperation with Special Olympics Oregon, and in future years, she’d like to work toward having three seasons of sports, potentially adding flag football or soccer in the fall, and kickball or track and field in the spring.

South Eugene High School hosts the second of the season’s four unified basketball games on Feb. 29 at 5:30. The games are free.

Karen Richards joined KLCC as a volunteer reporter in 2012, and became a freelance reporter at the station in 2015. In addition to news reporting, she’s contributed to several feature series for the station, earning multiple awards for her reporting.