CR to play in first Unified Basketball Championship

CAMDEN — “We are the Champions,” the classic rock song and perennial sports anthem by Queen, blared through the intercoms and echoed through the hallways of the Nellie Hughes Stokes Elementary School in the Caesar Rodney School District on Friday morning.

The members of the Caesar Rodney High School Unified Basketball team, who will be playing Glasgow in the first DIAA Unified Basketball Championship game at 11:30 this morning at the University of Delaware’s Bob Carpenter Center, led a parade through the Stokes’ Elementary halls, getting high-fives, applause and well-wishes from the faculty and students.

In Unified sports, athletes with disabilities are paired with a “traditional” student/athlete.

This week has been a crescendo of excitement for the Riders’ Unified Basketball team. Not only did they defeat Indian River in the state tournament semifinals 31-11 on Tuesday, they also participated in ‘Spread the word — Respect’ activities along with other schools throughout the state on Wednesday.

“I think it’s awesome to have a nice little pep rally to get us hyped for the game (today) and help support ‘Spread the Word’ week and knock off the ‘End the R-Word’ week,” said Nate Threatts, coach of CR’s Unified Basketball team, before he found out his team would be playing Glasgow today. “They’re super excited to play in the championship game. They can’t wait.

“We’re still kind of worried because we still don’t know exactly who we’ll be playing yet. We’re ready for whoever we’ve got. We’re just going to go out there and play the way we have and start fast and try to put them down early.”

Darisa Everett, principal of Stokes Elementary, captured all the excitement by videotaping the parade on her cell phone.

“We love this,” Mrs. Everett said. “We try to celebrate our students and we thought, ‘What better way than to send our Unified Basketball team off with a big celebration to the states?’ We wanted to get them ready and hyped up and ready to win (today). We wish them the absolute best.”

Caesar Rodney enters today’s championship game with a perfect 8-0 record. CR is one of nearly 4,000 Unified Champion Schools in the United States.

The Riders were all smiles following their Friday morning procession through the hallways of Stokes Elementary.

“I’m pretty excited,” senior Alex Baldwin said. “Our (pep rally) was fun. I like being a part of the team.”

For sophomore Na’Siem Velez, who attended Stokes in 2012 and ’13, it was a little homecoming on Friday.

“I just like playing basketball because I think it’s fun, plus it gives me a chance to talk to my people … that’s what I like,” he said. “It was good and nice of the school (to have a pep rally).”

It was yet another positive message in the spirit of inclusion at school districts throughout the state this week.

Kylie Frazer, Delaware’s director of school and youth initiatives for Special Olympics, said Wednesday’s ‘Spread the Word’ campaign has now shifted from a singular focus on the R-word to one focused on broader issues of social respect and inclusion, especially given that in some settings the most urgent action needed for social respect and inclusion is to end the R-word, but in others it may be something else.

“The day is an opportunity for students in schools to rally behind the premise that respecting and including individuals of all abilities and backgrounds should remain at the forefront of every action and decision they make on a daily basis,” Ms. Frazer said.

“Fortunately, nowadays the majority of students already respect all of their peers, but the activities on this one day just reinforces for everyone the importance of treating everyone with respect and the inclusion of all members in school activities and in the local communities.”

On Wednesday, youth in all 50 states coordinated simultaneous pledge drives, campaigns and educational activities through the ‘Spread the Word — Respect’ campaign.

In Delaware, more than 155 preschool, elementary, middle and high schools, along with the University of Delaware and all the Del Tech campuses, participated in the campaign through an array of activities promoting respect and inclusion, which included:

• Providing general information about the campaign in morning announcements.

• Conducting assemblies focused on respect and inclusion.

• Leading fun, interactive activities to promote respect and inclusion.

• Signing a pledge banner at their school to promote respect and inclusion.

• Week-long spirit weeks with a variety of awareness activities.

• Raising awareness about the Special Olympics Delaware program.

Members of Caesar Rodney’s Unified Basketball team have extended their memorable week to include a chance to win a state championship in the first DIAA Unified Basketball Championship against Glasgow.

Chris Friend, a senior traditional student/athlete on the Riders’ team, said the experience and journey that he has been on has been unforgettable and life-changing.

“We’ve worked all season for this,” he said. “This has always been the end goal. Everybody has worked their butts off trying to get here and know we have a chance to do it — especially playing at UD … when the kids found out about that their eyes just lit up.

“I’ve been involved with the (John S. Charlton School) program for about two years now and just watching these kids grow has always been a great experience for me. It’s had a great effect on my life.

“I’m going to (eventually be a Charlton) teacher now and these kids are looking forward to graduating themselves and getting out there in the world.”

First, there is a little bit of unfinished business that awaits the Unified Riders at the Bob Carpenter Center.

Reach staff writer Mike Finney at 302-741-8230 or mfinney@newszap.com.

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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