The Shelton Unified Sports basketball program, for student-athletes with special needs — and for their peers, partners who assist the athletes alike — came to a close in March. It was another rewarding winter of hoops and happiness on the hardwood for all involved.
This past season featured a rise in participation with a whopping 40 combined players and partners.
“There are more participants every year. The difficulty is getting everybody to play,” said Karen Devonshuk who coaches along with Mike Gambardella.
Participation is one of the primary objectives of the program, so the team found a way. When hosting tournaments, the Unified teams broke into three courts in the Shelton gym, allowing for division of teams and more playing time for all.
This year, Shelton held its first Gaelpalooza! Unified basketball game. Whether it is a practice, game, tourney or after-competition gathering it is thoroughly enjoyed by participants.
“The kids love it,” said Devonshuk, adding that postgame pizza parties are a highlight after every event.
Diana Mazza is one of the partners and enjoys seeing the progress of the players.
“We show them how to do things and cheer them on when they shoot,” she said. “They’re getting so much better at dribbling and shooting.”
“I like playing sports,” athlete Shane Lacobelle said.
His dad, Nick Lacobelle, is among the many parents who are appreciative of the opportunity for student-athletes.
“This is a very good program they have for the kids. They do very good things,” said Nick Lacobelle, adding a compliment to his son and wife. “He’s good looking, he’s smart. He takes after his mom, you know.”
The Unified program, which features track and field in the spring and may expand to include soccer in the fall, emphasizes sportsmanship no matter what the season or score.
Everybody gets an opportunity to score and players learn to help and to root for opposing team members.
“It’s just a great example of everything that sports should do and should be. You have camaraderie, you have skills, learning, empathy and compassion — and yet it’s fun,” Shelton athletic director John Niski said. “I’m so excited about the whole program and the people we have. The support starts at the top (administration and coaches) and makes for a great experience for the students.”