Baskets for unity: Arvada West’s 2023 unified basketball


Joy and exuberance filled the gym during Unified Basketball. Photo by Chloe Rios

In 1987, former president Ronald Reagan, declared March as National Disability Awareness month, calling for all Americans to acknowledge the skills of people with disabilities and encourage inclusivity nationwide. Over the past 36 years, the month of March has been selected in the United States to amplify the message of empathy and inclusion. On March 14th, 2023, Arvada West hosted an Adapted Athletics Basketball Day in the gym, for students with special needs from across the district.

The gym was split into two sides: Court one and Court two. The bleachers were out for a student audience, and with teacher permission, students were allowed to head down to the gym from 10:00 to 11:40 to support the games. In total eight different schools or programs had students participating : Arvada High School, Jefferson High School, Pomona High School, Ralston Valley High School, Standley Lake High School, Wheat Ridge High School, JTS North, and of course the hosting school Arvada West High School.

A-West’s first game took place at the start of the event from 10:00 to 10:10, against Pomana.  A player of the team, Arvada West senior Jonathan Winkler, describes his feelings pre-game, “”I was feeling pretty nervous, but I was really hoping that we would win.” 

  The match ended with A-West taking the victory of the first game out of the four of the day. However, after the teams first victory, Winkler compares his change in feelings from the pre-game to the upcoming three rounds he explains, “It felt good, we have some other games to go too.”

The following three games were filled with dynamic and energetic movements across the court. When the players were passed the ball, each student had three shots, to try to score points for their team. On each side of both courts, there were three different hoops to include every single student regardless of their physical conditions: a standard basketball hoop, a medium sized hoop, and a smaller hoop. The three different hoops made the game accessible and was one way the event was inclusive towards everyone on the court.

As the second game rolled around, A-West played JTS North. JTS North is a Jefferson County program for young adults with special needs who are recent graduates (aged 18-21), to help them transition into the workforce.

A-West did lose the second round of basketball. However, seconds before the match was over freshman Ellijah Rojas had a significant play: a buzzer beater. Roja’s move was a highlight for many. Senior and a peer mentor for A-West’s SSN program, Mathea Franklin credits Rojas’ move as her favorite part of the game,“Seeing Ellijah score a buzzer beater, he freaked…”

Rojas explains his big move came with a lot of warming up and practicing shooting before the game. He says his move, “…made me feel really good. It made us win!”

Rojo’s celebrates after making a buzzer beater in the second match versus JTS North.

For the third round, A-West played against Jefferson High school, and the game ended with a score of 22-18. 

The final game for Arvada West at the event was against JTS North, again. Arvada West held the lead for the whole game and won the game with a score of 20-14. 

Winning half of the games came with preparation. Arvada West’s SSN students had been preparing for the big day for a month in their gym classes. In the Unified Gym Class, students are paired with a Peer Mentor. From there, they teamed up together and participated in a range of athletics such as bowling, volleyball, and of course basketball. Danny Vais, one A-West gym coach and the head of the Unified Gym Class, comments on the SSN students’ attitude in the class, “The best part about it is that I never have to motivate them to want to be here. They all love to show up, and really try to do all the different things. I’m really able to see the enjoyment on their faces when they are able to do something and be successful.“ 

Additionally, prior to the game, the team had conversations about good sportsmanship. Marion Hatch, one of the workers in the SSN department explains the message they pushed on the students, “We talked about good sportsmanship, if you win or lose you’re going to try your best, and just have fun!”

For many students the Unified Basketball game was a time to amplify inclusivity and to demonstrate the community in Jeffco Schools. That was certainly the case for one Junior on the court, Jamiah Reid who was excited to see other schools, “I was excited to see my friend Noah, and all of my other friends (from other schools).”

One audience member enjoyed seeing Jeffco schools come together, and agreed with the importance of promoting the message of inclusivity that the event was advocating. Sophomore Saemus Hill, after being allowed to spend this third period gym class supporting the games,explains the importance of supporting it in a school environment, “….. When you let everyone come out and watch the games, you get more of a view of how it is, and how everyone is still capable of doing everything. The t-shirts and stuff, helps everybody know what the problem is and that’s super important.”

After the games, students danced to songs such as Miley Cyrus’ ” Party in the U.S.A” to end the day of games.

From Rojo’s buzzerbeater, to the lively music performed by Pep Band, the day was spirited with energy. The smiles on the court continued after the games, especially when every student that played celebrated to songs such as Miley Cyrus’ “ Party in the U.S.A.” 2023’s Unified Basketball  game demonstrated the power of what happens when differences are looked over, and the power that can be created  when the Arvada West community comes together.