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Unified Sports has given high school student-athletes a rare and rewarding opportunity to play sports in a school team setting. And now young learners from Newtown Middle School are in on the fun.
Newtown Middle School, behind the efforts of physical education teacher Ken Kantor, has started up a Unified Sports program of its own, providing the same chance high school students have had to play sports and learn about sportsmanship, to sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders. The program began with basketball.
Kathy Davey, one of the coaches and key figures behind the growing success of the high school program, was among those who approached Mr Kantor about forming a team at the middle school.
“The school day shouldn’t end at two o’clock. Everybody should have opportunities to participate in sports and clubs,” said Ms Davey, adding that Mr Kantor and Assistant Coach Tracy Milligan have done a great job with the middle school program.
Ms Davey said younger siblings of those involved in the high school Unified Sports program saw how much fun it is and wanted the same opportunity.
“It was just a win-win-win. No matter how we looked at it, everybody was winning,” Ms Davey said. “You knew it was going to be successful.”
“She’s been a great resource and advocate, and has been very helpful in giving me information and ideas,” Mr Kantor said of Ms Davey, who has helped the high school program grow by leaps and bounds throughout the years.
Working With Peers
The middle school program is off to a strong start. There are about 50 middle school team members, including athletes and student helpers, who work with peers who have a variety of special needs. As is the case with the high school program, the middle school helpers are there to support and encourage the athletes.
“The students have the opportunity to be in a leadership role — to be a role model for their peers,” said Mr Kantor, whose team practices weekly and takes on opposing middle school teams, including Monroe’s Jockey Hollow, Oxford, and Bethel.
Just as the athletes and partners learn what it is like to be on a team where sportsmanship is the primary focus, Mr Kantor has come away with more than the satisfaction of watching it all unfold.
“This has been a learning experience for me — very powerful for me to see how accepting of one another the kids are. It creates such a strong family community atmosphere,” Mr Kantor said.
Mr Kantor points out that having the program for middle school students, as well as at the high school level, will help them become well-rounded individuals as they get older.
The high school program offers sports in the spring and fall, and Mr Kantor said his middle school group is looking to add soccer this coming fall.
Unified Sports at all levels leaves participants and spectators, including parents and administrators on hand to watch games, with the same takeaway.
“They just leave with a smile. It’s infectious,” Ms Davey comments.
Members of the Newtown Middle School team are as follows: Emmi Rosenthal, Shea Murphy, Matt Williams, Jake Gonski, Melina Cummings, Sarah Nowacki, Colin Adis, Elise Beier, Riley Burns, TJ O’Connell, Eli Kirby, Cameron Powers, Andi Braholi, Ryan Heran, Tyler Grosso, Sienna Harper, Payton Bradley, Lenie Urbina, Mack Berry, Connor Faxon, Frank Welber, Ryan Verdi, Kendall Reed, Aidan Berry, Seth Rylant, Devin Herbstman, Danielle Vigneau, Mark DeLoughy, Abby Watson, Luke Steimle, Travis McClay, Will Eagleson, Gus Coffey, Hayden Miller, Jordan D’Amico, Zack Calderbank, Gunnar Bozentko, Elena Parvin, Chloe O’Connell, Karl Miller, Carly Decker, Morgan Melillo, Julia Gerace, Molly McCleary, Jake Mailloux, Eric Burbank, Anne Marie Carlson, Jessica Visca, Charlie Curtis, Andy Zhang, and Patrick Boyle.