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Unified Olympics joins teams together

After a Special Olympics three-on-three basketball game Feb. 23 at Five Oaks Middle School, 12-year-old Preston Harris eyed his friend Chris Sullivan's bag of potato chips.

'No, those are mine,' said Sullivan, giggling from across the table.

The friends play basketball together and go to Forest Grove's Tom McCall Upper Elementary School together. Both joined the Unified Special Olympics basketball team last January when the season began.

The team, like other Special Olympics Unified Sports teams, partner Special Olympics athletes and partners without intellectual disabilities to compete in sports.

To encourage skills

About 100 volunteers and athletes from Beaverton, Forest Grove and Hillsboro attended Saturday's jamboree.

The Five Oaks jamboree drew traditional Special Olympics teams from Beaverton and Hillsboro and Unified Special Olympics teams from Hillsboro and Forest Grove. Participants in the competition were divided up into teams of three and four to play with athletes and partners from different schools, and it began with opening ceremonies. Everyone received an award.

The goal, said Jill Hertel, a teacher in the Forest Grove district, was that, 'whether playing with a parent or sibling, classmate or friend, many of our athletes can learn to be active and independent with simple basketball games.

'The games were to encourage skills and knowledge that can be transferred to school recess, the home driveway or neighborhood. We wanted players to have the opportunity to play with other players at their same level.'

Sharing hugs

During the game, Sullivan and Harris played well together, sharing the ball and encouraging each other. Harris's mother, Claudette, smiled as the boys hugged after Preston scored on a lay-up.

'He's done really well,' she said. 'He doesn't hog the ball and really enjoys playing.'

Claudette's other son, Austin, 16, is a junior at Forest Grove High School, a swimmer who enjoys clay art. He also is affected by Fragile X Syndrome, an inherited mental impairment that affects cognitive and physical abilities.

Her other three children were not born with the condition.

Stigma-free

Free of the stigmas and prejudices that can fester in primary school, parents and siblings at the jamboree looked on with active interest in the rival team. Kids who are sometimes prone to frustration persisted because of the quiet patience of their parents.

'Seeing parents watch their kids be a part of something and watching the kids see their friends succeed is really awesome. They are all unified,' said Hertel.

Susan Dieter, an adapted PE specialist and volunteer coach at the event, often reminds the college students who visit her classes for real-life practice to resist asking about conditions her students may have.

'If you get too hung up on what they have, you forget that they are just kids. It loses that whole philosophy that they are just kids,' she said.

The jamboree, sponsored by the Beaverton Schools Special Olympics Basketball Program, is not an official Special Olympics event, but it includes traditional and unified Special Olympics teams and athletes. For more information on Special Olympics, visit www.specialolympics.org and type 'unified' in the search bar.