In unified basketball, the winner is sportsmanship

January 30, 2024

If you have never been to a unified basketball contest, strap on your sneakers and run a fast break to the Cape Henlopen High School gymnasium. You will be treated to four quarters of excitement, teamwork and sportsmanship the likes of which you have probably not before experienced.

Unified sports combine people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same teams. They were inspired by a single principle: training and playing together is a way to promote friendship and understanding. In unified sports, teams are made up of males and females of similar age and ability.

I wandered into the high school gymnasium Jan. 25 to claim a seat prior to the 3:30 p.m. tipoff.  Cape Henlopen was hosting Polytech, and the stands quickly collected a large and enthusiastic throng.  

The game was basketball, and the officials (to their credit) were liberal in calling a “tight” game. What quickly became apparent to me was the loud sense of euphoria throughout the competition.  Spectators and players were equally ebullient regardless of who scored a basket!  

Even more profound was the fact that, if a Cape Henlopen player snatched a rebound from an errant Polytech shot, he or she turned and gave it back to the visiting player to try again. Similarly, Polytech players returned the favor. This sometimes continued for six shots. Were it not for their uniforms, you would not be able to tell who was the home team or the visitors. Talk about sportsmanship!

In terms of defense, when the team on offense was able to get the ball to a player in the middle of the three-second rectangle, rather than the defenders collapsing on that player, they moved away to open more room for the shooter. Wow!  Of course, if the shot was missed and retrieved by the defense, it was returned to the shooter for another try.

Imagine this scenario in any other basketball contest. For some mysterious reason, the clock at the end of the third quarter got stuck at 4.6 seconds until a Polytech player, on his fifth attempt, was able to toss the sphere into the hoop. That’s what you call a generous timepiece!

As for the game, there were only four turnovers, there were five times as many passes as there were shots taken (talk about being unselfish) and there was not one foul called for the entire four quarters!

At once, it felt like the way sports and, in this case, basketball, should be played, with a premium on sportsmanship, fair play and fun. On the other hand, it was basketball and everyone involved was learning something about technique, strategy and teamwork.

So, if you are looking for the excitement and entertainment of basketball, and desire it to be presented with the utmost of sportsmanship by both the players and the spectators, you have two more opportunities. There will be a home game Thursday, Feb. 1, against Middletown High School and a final one Thursday, Feb. 6, with Milford (Senior Night). Both contests begin at 3:30 p.m.

By the way, you may have noticed that I didn’t mention the score. The winner was sportsmanship ... by both teams.

Dr. James H. VanSciver of Lewes is a longtime educator, educational administrator and author.

  • Cape Gazette commentaries are written by readers whose occupations, education, community positions or demonstrated focus in particular areas offer an opportunity to expand our readership's understanding or awareness of issues of interest.

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