Kent State’s first-ever Unified Sports League holds championship

Players on The Knights exchange high-fives at the Unified Sports Basketball League on Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018.

Vanessa Gresley

Kent State’s first ever Unified Sports League, an inclusive athletic program where people with intellectual disabilities play sports alongside people without disabilities, played their championship basketball game Tuesday night. 

The two teams competing in the championship were the Knights and Wolves, who battled to a final score of 35-28, with the Knights taking home the victory.

The season consisted of three regular-season games, semi-finals and the championship. The league had four teams, all of which played in the semi-finals on Tuesday before the championship. As the champions, the Knights will compete in the spring at Ohio State in Regionals.

“It is nice having something where they are incorporated with everyone else and it wasn’t geared toward anything, it was just a normal basketball game,” Vincent Hensperger, coach of the Knights and junior biology major, said.  

This was Hensperger’s first time coaching a Unified Sports League. He said his team had a blast and he was able to experience something that he may not get to experience in the future.

For player Christina Petras, freshman career and community studies major and team leader for the Golden Flashes, this was an important life event.

“(Coming out as a team in the) Unified basketball league is a huge lifetime experience for me,” Petras said. “I think people came out strong and came out showing more aggressiveness. It’s really great to see people talking and having fun with it and having things in common.”

Turner Goa, Intramural Sports and Youth Programs Graduate Assistant, headed the operation of bringing a league to Kent State with the help of other administration. He said it’s about getting more inclusion at the SWRC.

Kent State’s Unified Sports League has a partnership with Special Olympics Ohio and Portage County. Through their partnership with Special Olympics, they are provided team jerseys and have a representative who provides counsel throughout the process.

The partnership with Portage County helped the league gain about 20 more team members with disabilities. A total of 48 people are in the league, including both Kent State students and athletes from Portage County.

Career and Community Studies has also been a big help in making the league possible. The league works like a typical intramural league and no guidelines or rules are changed to gear the game more toward those with disabilities.

“Being on the court with them is so empowering for me and for them. To pass them the ball and they make it and everyone’s jumping and shouting. It’s a big deal, it creates these little moments,” Nicholas Barber, recreation program coordinator, said.

Goa said the program has gone better than expected. He and Barber anticipate growth from here. There is hope to expand the program to more sports in the future, including a couple unified leagues each semester like soccer, basketball, volleyball and kickball. If participation stays high, they would love to see a whole unified section of sports.

Vanessa Gresley is the housing reporter. Contact her at [email protected].