The Forest Grove Basketball Invitational brings together athletes with and without disabilities

Jill Hertel would like to see more people get involved with Unified Special Olympics sports, and this Saturday will provide the perfect opportunity when Forest Grove High School hosts its sixth annual youth basketball tournament.

Unified Special Olympics sports joins participants with and without intellectual disabilities to compete on the same team, and the Forest Grove Basketball Invitational is the largest Unified youth tournament in the Portland metro area, consisting of 20 teams and approximately 300 coaches, athletes and volunteers.

“It definitely takes the community coming together to support an event like this,” said Hertel, the Forest Grove Unified Sports Coordinator. “It’s really cool to see. It’s just a fun day for us to recognize everyone’s efforts to help make this tournament happen, and to celebrate the efforts of the athletes who participate.”

Forest Grove doesn’t have enough Unified basketball teams to form a league, so this weekend’s tournament marks the end of the season by bringing in other teams from around the area — Portland, Hillsboro, Beaverton and Wilsonville will all be represented.

The tournament begins at 9 a.m. on Saturday with games for elementary school students, followed by middle and high school students from 1 to 6 p.m.

The Forest Grove School District donates its facilities for the event and Special Olympics Oregon provides food, uniforms and awards. In addition, Hertel said the pool of about 50 volunteers is largely comprised of students from Forest Grove High School and Pacific University, with other community members also pitching in.

Hertel said the Unified Special Olympics program is beneficial because it not only gives athletes with disabilities a forum to compete, but it also helps break down stereotypes and inspires friendship among team members.

The Unified sports program in Forest Grove also offers teams for soccer, softball and golf. Hertel said the goal is eventually to have enough teams to form leagues, like those available in Portland and other cities around the country.

For now, Hertel is simply hoping that more people come out this weekend to check out the tournament and familiarize themselves with Unified sports. If that leads to an increase in future athletes and volunteers, so much the better.

“We encourage schools to participate in some sort of Unified program so students with disabilities have the ability to compete,” she said. “It’s just a very fun, very inclusive environment. We’re excited to host another great tournament this year.”

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