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Unified Sports Blue Blaze Basketball Players Are Stars On The Court



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Newtown High School’s Unified Sports basketball team, the Blue Blaze, took on Bethel at home on January 12.

Playing on the team allows the special needs athletes and their partners to create friendships and get in exercise. Student leaders Emma Ehrens and Adelyn Skerik, both juniors at NHS, have been on the team for seven and two years respectively. Both leaders enjoy the positive environment at games and within the team and the removed pressure of living up to the standards of life, they said.

The team as a whole plays enthusiastically on the court and the bench is always cheering on their team and the opposing team, a prime example of a positive, encouraging environment.

Curtis Shaw and Patrick Reisert, both special needs athletes, were star players in the first half. Curtis Shaw has been playing on the Blue Blaze for three years and his favorite part is “helping my teammates.” Reisert, who has been playing for two years, said his favorite part is “shooting 3s.”

“The best time is in between (the basketball) teams because everyone comes,” said NHS Athletic Director Matt Memoli, referring to the Unified game taking place between junior varsity and varsity girls’ basketball games between Newtown and Bethel.

The school community welcomes the Blue Blaze and the team is one big family. Everyone is able to participate and the coaches for both teams encourage everyone to cheer for the athletes when they step up to shoot a basket. Within such a positive and enthusiastic atmosphere, all of the players were running up and down the court supporting their own teammates as well as the players of the opposing team.

“This is my second year coaching Unified Sports and it is the best part of my day,” said Head Coach Larry Saladin, who also coaches Unified soccer in the fall and track in the spring. “The students, both the partners and athletes, love to be there and they are so appreciative of the opportunity. Moreover, our team of coaches and paraprofessionals who come to every practice and travel to every meet are enthusiastic and wonderful mentors and advocates for our students. If you ask any coach they will tell you that they learn so much more from these students than they learn from us. The hugs, enthusiasm, and tears of joy that we share with our team is representative of the very best that sports has to offer. Unified transcends the euphoria in winning and the agony of defeat and embraces the pure joy that sports can create by just participating. It is a uniquely amazing program that I wish every student could experience.”

The Blue Blaze’s next scheduled game is February 14 at home against Danbury at 3 pm and the Blaze will end the season with a tournament at Pomperaug High School in Southbury, scheduled to take place on March 1 (time not yet announced).

Members of the Blue Blaze are Alamin Islam, Jessica Andreotta, Luzio Arraiz, Haley Austermann, Amelia Bajcer, Andrew Beylouni, Kidist Blessey, Kory Briganti, Ethan Cameron, Jack Carta, Rowan Coffey, Riley DeLoughy, Emma Ehrens, Gianna Galassi, Madison Griffin, Benjamin Ismail, Alicia Ligouri, Grace Mackessy, Lauren Murphy, Pablo Necco, Bobby Pers, Addison Plummer, Caleigh Prieto, Patrick Reisert, Madeline Rose, Christine Salvo, Nicky Santos, Ashley Shaw, Curtis Shaw, Adelyn Sherik, Timothy Sullivan, Eren Weiss, and Richie Wolford.

Emma Bensley is a student at Pomperaug High in Southbury doing her Senior Project with The Newtown Bee.

Kidist Blessey lines up his shot at the rim as Ashley Shaw (No. 50), Richie Wolford (No. 54), and Alamin Islam (No. 44) look on during Unified Sports Blue Blaze basketball action at Newtown High on January 12. —Bee Photos, Hutchison
Player Maddie Griffin (No. 34) and partner Jessica Andreotta share a laugh as they head up the court together.
Kory Brigante goes up for two points.
Patrick Reisert (No. 31) moves with the ball as Curtis Shaw (No. 21) races to get into position on the offensive end of the court.
Coach Larry Saladin celebrates a basket during the Blue Blaze game versus Bethel.
Timo Sullivan gets a fist bump from Newtown High Athletic Director Matt Memoli after being welcomed onto the court by the NHS cheerleaders during pregame introductions.
Ruby Fitzpatrick, Barbara Bloom, Mandy Monaco, Nichole Marrazzo, and Alyssa Finkenstadt cheer on student athletes during Unified Sports basketball action.
Members of the Unified Sports Blue Blaze basketball team were all smiles before a game against Bethel.
Maddie Rose, center, is escorted onto the court by Alicia Ligouri, left, and Addy Plummer during pregame introductions.
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