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Unified at Coal Bowl in New Waterford

Players from Breton Education Centre's Unified Basketball team sit on the floor of their classroom with their own coaches, with coaches from Sydney Academy's team behind them on Monday, the first day of the 38th annual Coal Bowl Classic. For a second year, a Unified league game has been included in the Coal Bowl schedule and this year BEC Bears will be taking on Sydney Academy at 5 p.m. today. NIKKI SULLIVAN/CAPE BRETON POST
Players from Breton Education Centre's Unified Basketball team sit on the floor of their classroom with their own coaches, with coaches from Sydney Academy's team behind them on Monday, the first day of the 38th annual Coal Bowl Classic. For a second year, a Unified league game has been included in the Coal Bowl schedule and this year BEC Bears will be taking on Sydney Academy at 5 p.m. today. NIKKI SULLIVAN/CAPE BRETON POST
NEW WATERFORD, N.S. —

To say the players of Breton Education Centre's Unified basketball team are excited for their game today against Sydney Academy might be an understatement.

For a second year, the Coal Bowl Classic basketball tournament hosted by Breton Education Centre has included a game between their Unified team and another in the Cape Breton Regional-Victoria Centre for Education. Last year BEC Bears won the game against Riverview High School and they're planning on doing the same this year.

Albert Chaisson, left, a player on the BEC Bears Unified basketball team, stands with Morgan Ross, a Grade 12 student at Sydney Academy who is one of the coaches of his school's Unified team. NIKKI SULLIVAN/CAPE BRETON POST
Albert Chaisson, left, a player on the BEC Bears Unified basketball team, stands with Morgan Ross, a Grade 12 student at Sydney Academy who is one of the coaches of his school's Unified team. NIKKI SULLIVAN/CAPE BRETON POST

"I like it when everyone yells 'Go Bears,'" said Quentin MacLeod, who played on last year's winning team.

The winning basket was scored by Ian MacIssac, who also plays basketball on a Special Olympics team.

"I like the ladies," he said as his teammates, teachers and coaches laughed.

Unified Sports was created by Special Olympics as a way to bring people with and without intellectual disabilities together. Often it's the athletes who are the ones with intellectual disabilities and it's the coaches who are without. For the local Unified basketball teams, these coaches are usually their peers — students at their high schools who play on the school's basketball teams.

Grade 10 student Morgan Hillier, 15, has played for the BEC Bears for two years. This is his first time coaching the Unified team and he said last year's game inspired him to get involved.

"It was so heartwarming," he said, sitting on the floor with the players after leaving the sofa because a few of them started cheering his name.

"Everybody was just so happy when they were out there, playing."

Morgan Ross is a Grade 12 student at Sydney Academy, a player on the basketball team since Grade 9 and a coach for their Unified team since it started three years ago.

"I thought it would be a good experience (to get involved)," the 18-year-old said. "I thought it would be good to help teach people how to play basketball because I have always loved it and I thought if I could help other people like it too, that would be good."

Unified Sports is "inspired by a simple principle: training together and playing together is a quick path to friendship and understanding" (from Special Olympics Canada website) and it seems to be inspiring this connection in participants in the Cape Breton high school league.

And it seems to be spreading a love of basketball too.

"It makes you shoot hoops," said Nate Crowe, and all his teammates agreed that scoring baskets is just as good as hearing the crowds cheer their names.

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