Workouts, donuts at first unified basketball practice of the year

Mar 11, 2021

After a virtual fall season, unified basketball is back at the Dartmouth High School gym.

The popular sports team started the Fall II season off on March 11 with warmup drills, a shooting competition, and plenty of donuts as more than two dozen kids got back on the court.

Unified sports joins students from the general population with students from the special education program together on the same sports team.

Dartmouth High’s unified sports program started around 15 years ago and has been competing in a league for the past six years, according to coach Mike Cappello.

Normally the team practices in the fall — but basketball was considered high risk at the time.

“Obviously Covid threw a little bit of a wrench into things,” noted coach John Breault. “We were able to do organized activities in the fall, most of which happened to be virtual.”

Around a dozen kids signed up to do virtual workouts and yoga sessions last fall.

“It was definitely different,” he said. “The biggest part of unified is the socialization...And it’s really tough to socialize on Google Meet. So that aspect made it really difficult.”

“They're really excited just to get back out here,” he added. “They’re thrilled.”

Head Coach and special education teacher Ashley Kocur-Pierpont agreed.

“A lot of things are still up in the air, but we’re just really excited to be able to be together in person doing our workouts,” she said.

The head coach said that she likes “everything” about the program. 

“It’s a great opportunity for kids to just be able to hang out with their peers, get some exercise, and just have a lot of fun together,” she said. “We’ve got a great team, we’ve got a great group of partners and athletes this year, and I think we’re going to have a lot of fun.”

But with a six-week season instead of the usual 8-10 weeks, the coaches don’t know if there will be any games this year. 

“We’re hopeful,” said Breault. “We’ll see.”

“At this point, we’ll take what we can get,” added Kocur-Pierpont with a laugh.

At their first practice the group of 28 students was split up into pods of three or four to work out and scrimmage together.

This allowed them to compete with other ‘teams’ — and allowed for easier contact tracing, too, explained the head coach.

Other Covid safety regulations include wearing masks, distancing whenever possible, and plenty of hand sanitizer available for all. 

“We’ve been really lucky,” said Kocur-Pierpont. “Everyone does a really good job at social distancing as best as we can, everyone’s been so great at mask wearing.”

First-time unified coach Mike Frates commended the other coaches for their efforts. “They’ve laid the groundwork out,” he noted. “So it’s just seamless.”

After an hour of exercising, shooting hoops, and stretching, one partner — junior Heather Cachia — passed around donuts from her part-time job at Town Donut Shop. 

“We had extra,” she explained with a smile.

Another partner, junior Jacob Moniz, said he has been with the team for three years. 

“Just hanging out with the kids, it’s a fun experience,” he said. “It’s great to work with them and have fun with them.”

“I want to give these kids the best opportunity they can get,” he added. “That’s my goal.”

Athlete and high school junior Brian Edwards said that he likes practicing drills the best — especially when he hits the three pointers. “I’ve done a few,” he said modestly. 

“I’m glad to be back shooting hoops,” he noted.

“There’s maybe one or two things I still have to get better at, and that’s remembering to pass the ball every once in a while,” Edwards added with a laugh. “You’ve got to admit it sometimes!”