Off the Mound

Unified for All


I have been playing sports all my life, from water polo to flag football to golf, but I fell in love with baseball. Over the last several years, I have been so focused on my baseball development that I did not know there was another sport out there I would enjoy just as much without the pressure I feel when I’m on the mound.

Once I tried Unified Basketball, I knew I had found something special. I played my first season this year and it was, by far, the most fun I have had in sports.

I am a sophomore at Peninsula High School, and I heard about the Unified Club earlier this year on the morning announcements. I’m always up for trying something new, so I decided to go and attend the club meeting that Thursday after school. Unified Club is a gathering of students of all abilities designed to promote social inclusion and mutual respect while having fun and getting to spend time together.

It was a whole new environment that I quickly realized was a perfect place for me. From week to week more students started attending and the excitement for Unified Club grew. The teacher-leaders were extremely excited as they never had this many participants. Attending Unified Club quickly became something that I looked forward to and my new friends, of all backgrounds and abilities, made it fun.

During one club meeting, we learned about Unified Basketball and that PHS hoped to increase their participation to two teams this year. Unified Sports is a division of Special Olympics that combines athletes with intellectual disabilities with peer athletes for an inclusive competitive experience.

Starting from the first practice there was a lot to unfold and understand. It was more than just the fundamentals of basketball, I had to learn how to be a productive peer athlete for my teammates. In our division, we have three unified athletes playing with two peers on the court. Peers can only aid in the game and are on the court to support the athletes and help keep the game going.

Some Unified athletes benefit from a one-on-one peer who works directly with the athlete to play. This was my favorite part. I liked being paired up directly with Paige or Ian to bring out their best and help them feel successful with the basketball skills they had learned. Helping Ian dribble and helping Paige pass to her teammates reinforced for me the importance of teamwork and everyone having the chance to participate in team sports.

Although the season is short — the games only spanned four weekends — it was the most fun I have ever had playing a sport. And I am not alone in this belief. Thomas, another peer athlete, explained, “My favorite part of Unified Basketball was being able to help all the kids play basketball and how fun it was hanging out with all of them.”

What I remember most and what made me the happiest was the joy and excitement during the games. Whenever either team scored, the entire gymnasium filled with cheering and excitement from players, parents and fans.

And when PHS unified athletes Jack or Justin would drop back and make a 3-point shot, the place went wild. It was next level.

I will continue to work hard as an ace starting pitcher for the Peninsula High School varsity baseball team, as that is my primary sport. However, I would also love to be known as a peer athlete for Unified Sports. There is nothing better than getting to play basketball on a team with my friends and being a supportive and inclusive teammate.

If you want to know more about Unified Sports come out to a PHS Unified Soccer game or Unified Track meet or visit the Special Olympics website at

John Browand is a sophomore at Peninsula High School.