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With so much that seems to divide people these days, it is heartwarming to see unified basketball continue to grow and bring young athletes together across the state. Aroostook County gained its second unified team in January with Presque Isle joining the trend.
If you want to give us a flagrant foul for excessive sappiness, go ahead. We still think this combined effort, which connects players with and without developmental disabilities and is led by the Maine Principals’ Association and Special Olympics Maine, is a wonderful display of togetherness and sportsmanship that should continually be celebrated. And we’re not alone.
“If you talk to many ADs it’s the best thing we do,” Maine Principals’ Association Assistant Executive Director Mike Bisson told the Bangor Daily News last year after a couple seasons of COVID-19 suspension and curtailment. “It is exciting to have this back and see the smiles and joy around Unified basketball. I don’t care who you are, when you leave the gym after a Unified basketball game you’re usually feeling pretty good about life.”
That is no small feeling. Unified basketball has been having this positive impact for years. Take the way it was described by several participants and their parents back in 2016. “Life-changing” and “the best thing ever” were pretty strong endorsements at the time. We have to assume that the same is true today, and hope this will be the experience for players in Presque Isle.
That team’s season started Jan. 2 and runs through March 10. The team includes about a dozen excited players, and in a recent interview their coach expected four to six games for the season.
“The Maine Principals’ Association put this kind of team together to allow opportunities for individuals that may not have all the opportunities to play on sports teams,” Carl Michaud, the head coach for Presque Isle’s Unified team, told Star-Herald and BDN reporter Paul Bagnall. Michaud hopes other county athletic directors will form teams as well, either as individual towns or with towns and school districts forging partnerships.
“Hopefully some teams will start up as well, but also there’s an opportunity for collaborations,” Michaud said. “I do know there’s plenty of teams in the state that have more than one town creating a team like this.”
We hope so, too. After all, collaboration and creating new bonds are core parts of unified basketball. As we wrote back in 2016, “Winning championships is exciting. The acceptance and understanding are the larger victories.”