Members of the inaugural Houlton Unified Basketball team are, front from left, Charles Clark, Mollyanna McGary, Sarah Weymouth, Mallory Woodie, Hope Royal, Ella McCarthy, Ethan Casale and Conner Ames; middle, Dominic Morse, Caleb Thompson, Elizabeth Howe, Kollin Irish, Maciah Pray and Landon DiRusso; and back, coaches Ellen Dyer and Elliot Mooers. Absent from photo is Isabella Ardell. Credit: Joseph Cyr / Houlton Pioneer Times

HOULTON, Maine — Aroostook’s first Unified Basketball squad will see possibly its only action of the season Monday afternoon when the Houlton Shires travel to Orono.

Monday’s game marks the first official action for the newly formed Houlton Shire Unified Basketball team.

Unified basketball’s popularity has risen in Maine in recent years. Teams were allowed to begin playing regular-season games on Jan. 21, but most waited until early February to start what for many teams will be a schedule of six to eight games through March 11. Teams may participate in multi-team, end-of-season festivals from March 14-22.

“Unified basketball gives our kids another opportunity to play,” Houlton Middle-High School Athletic Director Jon Solomon said. “It has been growing steadily, first in the Portland area and now in the Bangor area. It is just time for The County to get involved.”

HOULTON, Maine — March 4, 2022 — Ethan Casale of the Houlton Unified Basketball team launches a shot during an intrasquad scrimmage Friday at Houlton Middle-High School.  (Joseph Cyr | Houlton Pioneer Times)

For now, the Houlton team is the only squad in Aroostook County, but Solomon said he has fielded questions from both Presque Isle and Caribou high schools, who have expressed interest in creating teams.

To prepare for that game, the team has been practicing and held an intrasquad scrimmage Friday in front of the school, as part of the high school’s winter carnival festivities.

Unified basketball features players with intellectual disabilities (Unified athletes) alongside non-varsity players (Unified partners), and uses rule modifications to define player roles and prevent the Unified partners from dominating the game.

The RSU 29 school board unanimously approved the addition of Unified Basketball on Feb. 7.

HOULTON, Maine — March 4, 2022 — Alumni Gymnasium erupts following the first successful basket by a Houlton Unified Basketball player Friday during a special intrasquad scrimmage at the high school. (Joseph Cyr | Houlton Pioneer Times)

Members of the Houlton Shire squad, coached by Elliot Mooers and Ellen Dyer, are Ethan Casale, Mollyana McGary, Caleb Thompson, Mallory Woodie, Isabella Ardell, Landon DiRusso, Elizabeth Howe, Maciah Pray, Charles Clark, Dominic Morse, Sarah Weymouth, Connor Ames, Kollin Irish, Ella McCarthy and Hope Royal.

Dyer is a special education teacher at the high school, while Mooers is an education technician in the junior high. Mooers has previous experience with unified basketball during his time with the Westbrook school district.

“To see the buzz of our special education students is incredible,” Solomon said. “They were so excited to come in and pick up their uniforms. They are so looking forward to doing this.”