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March 18, 2014 > Mission Valley enjoys first-ever basketball tournament

Mission Valley enjoys first-ever basketball tournament

Submitted By Anna Oleson-Wheeler

With plenty of championship banners adorning the walls and raucous cheers echoing from the gymnasium of Newark Memorial High School (NMHS), you'd think there was a state title on the line. But, even better, were 250 special education student athletes playing in the inaugural Schools Partnership Program basketball competition, put on by Special Olympics Northern California and Mission Valley Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA) on February 21.

The event was the culmination of eight weeks of training for students receiving special education instruction in Fremont, New Haven, and Newark school districts. While it was the first Special Olympics school basketball competition in the area, it is the second Schools Partnership Program event; American High School hosted a soccer competition in November. The Schools Partnership Program is made possible by a grant from Special Olympics Northern California to the Mission Valley SELPA.

Representing the Fremont School District were Horner Junior High School along with American, Kennedy, Mission San Jose and Washington high schools. Newark Junior High School, Bridgepoint High and, of course, host Newark Memorial High School competed for the Newark district. Hailing from New Haven were Cesar Chavez and Alvarado middle schools and James Logan High School.

Buses made their way to Newark Memorial and students lined up with their schools for the Parade of Athletes set to the musical stylings of the NMHS band Ð to kick off Opening Ceremonies. Each school made their way into the gym to cheers from the general education student population of NMHS along with parents and supporters.

The home-field advantage was apparent when the crowd erupted as Newark Junior High and host Newark Memorial High were announced. A student-athlete from James Logan High felt equally welcomed by the audience when he led them in the pledge of allegiance, grinning from ear to ear. Nothing topped the response after a NMHS special education student sang the national anthem Ð the gym thundered in support.

Games were spread across four courts with another room devoted to skills practice for those not playing at the moment. Teams enjoyed lunch in the gym followed by an award ceremony.

Students in the NMHS Student Athletic Advisory Council aided Athletic Director Rachel Kahoalii in organizing the logistics of the event and served as volunteers. When asked about working the event, several students said, "It's so much fun!" and "These photos are so going in the yearbook!"

Through the Special Olympics Northern California Schools Partnership Program, over 4,600 special education students receive training and compete in three sports Ð soccer, basketball, and track & field Ð during the school day. For many of the students with intellectual disabilities, this is the first time they have played sports, and the confidence they gain transcends the playing field to better the classroom and their lives. An additional component of the program known as whole-school involvement sees non-disabled students volunteer with the special education students as well as organize activities to promote unity and respect in their schools. For more information on the Schools Partnership Program, please visit www.OurUnifiedSchools.com.

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