The Vikings take first ever OSAA state tournament, held at Forest Grove High

NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: WADE EVANSON - Forest Groves' Juan Gomez Gutierrez dribbles into the key during the Vikings' state championship win over West Albany last winter.The OSAA held their first annual Unified basketball championship at Forest Grove High School in conjunction with the OSAA 4A State Basketball Championships, and the Forest Grove Black Knights prevailed over West Albany, 35-30.

"We're proud of our team and proud of our program for helping this happen," said the Black Knights' head coach Kari Bloomquist.

Forest Grove has been part of Unified for 10 years. The Unified basketball program is part of Unified Sports, which is a Special Olympics program designed to bring people together.

Special Olympics is dedicated to promoting social inclusion through shared sports training. Unified Sports joins people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team.

It was inspired by a simple principle: Training together and playing together is a quick path to friendship and understanding.

"As you could tell, we had a pretty high level of athlete out there today," a smiling Bloomquist said.

Jill Hertel runs the program at Forest Grove, and Bloomquist said she does a great job of recruiting players and getting kids involved.

The Dark Knights have 12 players on their roster. They qualified for the state tournament via a regional tournament last week, from which the top two teams advanced.

There was a nice turnout for the game, and one couldn't help but enjoy the action.

"There's just a lot of joy out there," said Chuck Nyquist, a spectator who stayed following the Banks game, which was played prior. "How could you not get behind that?"

The Vikings celebrated their state championship with a banner-raising during a school assembly this past fall.

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