Unified sports offer life lessons for all participants

Some members of the Shelton High Unified basketball team gather after a recent competition. Pictured (front row) are: Emily Zerella, Jeffrey Fair, Taylor Whalley, Kelly Stanley, Elena Schrynemakers, Bella Burns and Michaela Cortigiano; (second row) Tamir Shashoua, Josh Mondi, Sarah Falsetti, Lainey Roberto, Alli Panek, Sammy Rago, Mya Merenda and Michael Ciambriello; (third row) Karen Devonshuk (coach), Nick Mocciola, Matt Soto, Justys Ortiz, Jay Kollie and Mike Gambardella (coach).

Shelton Unified Sports is going strong and, in fact, growing.

With more than 40 participants — combined special needs athletes and partners — opportunities for learning and experiences abound for students in the school.

“They love coming to practice. Everybody loves competing with each other. They’re all so compassionate, it’s great to see,” said Karen Devonshuk, who coaches the team along with Mike Gambardella.

The experience is so enjoyable that some who graduate from the program return to cheer on their former teammates/ second family of sorts.

“We have alums who come back to cheer on their former team,” Devonshuk said.

Shelton hosted a tournament this winter, and past Unified Sports team member Kyle Roberts, wearing a team shirt, attended to support the athletes and partners.

“You get to work together. I have a lot of fun helping them and seeing them happy playing basketball,” said partner Ally Panek, who plays varsity soccer in the fall and is in her fourth year volunteering in the Unified Sports program.

Jeffrey Fair lines up a shot as Haley Adcox, Brandon Acervida, Tamir Shashoua and Bella Burns look on. — Andy Hutchison photo

Panek and the rest of the partners assist the athletes and help them score. Lower baskets are utilized for athletes in wheelchairs.

“It’s very rewarding,” said partner Luke Ferrigno, who plays varsity volleyball during the spring season. “It makes them so happy.”

The athletes and partners alike enjoy the practices and games. But once the final buzzer sounds the fun isn’t over.

“I also like the end of the game,” said athlete Joshua Mondi, referring to the postgame pizza parties.

Sportsmanship is emphasized with partners helping not only their teammates, but also athletes on opposing squads.

The team practices and competes in games and tournaments throughout the winter.

Members of the Shelton team are Brandon Acervida, Haley Adcox, Bella Burns, Michael Ciambriello, Michaela Cortigiano, Mia Dioguardi, Jeffrey Fair, Sarah Falsetti, Luke Ferrigno, Claire Foley, Spencer Gangi, Isaac Garcia, Erin Keary, Jay Kollie, Kristen Kondor, Shane Lacobelle , Mya Merenda, Nick Mocciola, Joshua Mondi, Amelia Nankervis, David Niski, Justys Ortiz, Kaitlyn Paige, Sarah Panek, Ally Panek, Sammy Rago, Jessica Rigoli, Lainey Roberto, Zoe Rogers, Cate Santa, Elena Schyrnemakers, Tamir Shashoua, Matthew Soto, Kelly Stanley, Lilly Taska, Brooke Weiss, Taylor Whaley, Kassidy Wojtowicz and Emily Zerella.

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