WAYNE, NJ – Wayne Hills High School hosted Wayne’s first Unified Sports Basketball game where, for the first time, General Education students and Special Education students played together in an official High School sport.
Last week’s game was a nail biter with the lead changing a few times in the last minute of play.
“The game was a perfect mix of competitive, and everyone still getting a chance to play and participate,” said Vinnie Porta, the head coach of the Hills team. “My kids wanted to win. We didn’t make a secret about it. Just like every other Hills team wants to beat Valley and every Valley team wants to beat Hills. There is no doubt that they wanted to win.”
This was evident in how the game ended. The Wayne Hills Patriots held the lead for most of the game, but the Wayne Valley Indians kept it close throughout.
With just over a minute left in the fourth quarter, Valley took their first lead of the game 35-36, but a fast break by Hills led to a score, putting the Patriots back on top 37-36, who kept the lead for the final thirty seconds.
The final score: 41-38 with the Wayne Hills Patriots winning the inaugural game of Wayne’s Unified Sports League.
“This was an amazing experience,” said Porta with a smile. “My wife said it was the best game I have ever been a part of in my life.”
Porta is a Physical Education teacher at Hills and was the girls basketball coach for the past eleven years. “I gave it up this year and that’s what gave me the opportunity to coach the unified basketball team,” he said.
Hills had twenty-two players on the court while Valley brought ten, but everyone had a chance to play. The teams are coed and the rules of the sport state that there must be a 3:2 ratio of Special Education students and General Education students on the court at all times.
Porta mentioned that the Hills girls basketball team came to watch, and the track team was there. Teachers that the players had in elementary school and middle school were there.
“If the word Unified means, playing together. It also meant that it brought a lot of people together for one common goal,” said the coach.
When asked about the kids' reaction to playing in the game, Porta said: "The kids talked about it for days. They're still talking about it. The kids are a part of the athletic program at Wayne Hills. They are athletes in our school. They call me 'Coach,' and I can feel the pride they have."
The next game is scheduled for February 27 at 3:15pm at Wayne Valley High School. West Milford will also attend with their own team, so there will be three small games played at that event.
It’s just the beginning for the Unified Sports League, as other schools begin to join the program. In the spring, there will be unified track and field team for both Hills and Valley and TAPinto Wayne will cover it all.