A team like no other

Unified Basketball exemplifies the true meaning of sports

The Pine Bush High School gym was rocking. It was as raucous as it has ever been, which is pretty intense considering the high level of basketball play that’s taken place here over the past few years.Seventeen members of the Unified Basketball team pose in their blue and gold uniforms along with their coach at right and athletic director at left.

On this Thursday afternoon, though, it wasn’t the Section IX championship Bushmen on the hardwood. Instead, it was a group of champions of another type.

Pine Bush kicked off its Unified Basketball season on April 19 with a game against Valley Central. Pine Bush came out on top, but that’s not really the story.

This team is quite unique. It is made up of high school students with and without intellectual disabilities. At all times, there are at least three special education students on the floor with their general education teammates.

Athletic Director Michael Gillespie said he knew he wanted Pine Bush to be a part of this Unified sports movement as soon as he heard of it.

“When I heard about this opportunity, I knew we should offer it at Pine Bush,” said Gillespie.

He mentioned it to Superintendent Tim Mains, who asked for and received school board approved. Gillespie has worked with the special education teachers to get students interested. It didn’t take much persuading to get players.Members of the team high five each other from the bench.

“The students in our Life Skills program jumped at the chance to compete in this varsity sport,” said Gillespie. “Equally as gratifying, our volunteer partners from the high school were thrilled to play as well.”

Because this is a varsity sport, players who participate on the Pine Bush varsity basketball teams could not participate in the unified program because they’ve used their basketball eligibility. That didn’t stop them from coming out and cheering on their team.

“It was great to see our basketball players in the stands cheering on the unified team,” said Gillespie. “That’s what this is all about.”

Project Unify

The Unified Sports Program is a collaboration between the New York State Public High School Athletic Association and Special Olympics New York. According to the NYSPHSAA website, the three main components of Project Unify are: To combine athletes with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team and contribute their own unique skills; to provide leadership opportunities to students and to provide opportunities for all students to participate in school-wide campaigns and activities.

Unified Bushmen

Varsity football coach Jim Wright took on the coaching duties for the unified team. His experience was one of the most rewarding in his 24-year career.

“I feel so honored to be the coach of not only incredible athletes but even better people,” said Wright. “After coaching for more than 24 years, I must say that this experience has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career. I only hope that I have inspired them as much as they have inspired me.”

Students in the stands support their Unified team, clapping and holding posters.The team had a six-game schedule this year against teams from Valley Central, Monroe-Woodbury, Middletown and Warwick. At the halftime break at each game, players competed in skill drills, which were both competitive and fun.

At the end of the six games, the team was an impressive 4-2.

Senior Jenna Maggiolo is the captain of the track team. She was one of the first to volunteer to be part of this team.

“Since the first practice when I walked in the room and saw everyone smiling, it brought tears to my eyes,” said Jenna. “I understand that kids with disabilities do not get these opportunities. Being a part of this team, we realize we have so much more in common. This experience has created so many friendships.”

Robyn Windle, a ninth grader, was hands down one of the most enthusiastic players on the team, according to Gillespie, waving his arms to the crowd every time he went into a game.

“I really like getting the crowd going,” said Robyn.

He also liked the game itself.

“I like playing hard and being part of the team,” he added. “I liked the coach teaching us new skills, like the chest pass and the bounce pass.”

 “What’s great is this group of kids get to play a high school sport with their peers,” said Gillespie. “And their classmates and parents get to come out and cheer them on. It’s terrific.”

The roster

Here is the 2018 Unified Basketball roster:

NAME                                                   JERSEY #                                             

Kyle Alicea                                          43

Adam Alongi                                      45

Emily Bott                                            10

Joseph Brinckerhoff                       50

Cody Brink                                          41

Shaun Burgos Jr.                               34

Jenna Degrote                                  44

Jordan Gribbin                                  3

Kearstin Heller                                  23

Ali Kheiralla                                         44

Lucas Kurth                                         55

Jenna Maggiolo                                15

Amanda Nelligan                              43

Sophia Smith                                      33

Trevon Thomas                                 30

Corey Wells                                        42

Robyn Windle                                    32


Pine Bush Central School District
State Route 302, Pine Bush, NY 12566
Phone: (845) 744-2031
Fax: (845) 744-6189
Tim O. Mains
Superintendent of Schools
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