Stanley organizes, Yuen coaches unified sports team

Siri Christopherson, Sports Editor

Students with and without disabilities are playing on a basketball team together for the first time in Liberty’s history through a program called Unified Sports. Unified Sports is a branch of Special Olympics, the world’s largest sports organization for people with intellectual disabilities, and this year, Crystal Stanley wanted to bring it to Liberty. Stanley is one of Liberty’s Special Education teachers and creator of Patriots United club, which includes students with disabilities and those without and increases awareness of disabilities.

“I was involved with Special Olympics for years and years, and it’s been a passion of mine,” Stanley said. “Being a part of your school and community is so important to each of us, and this is just a way to get the kids in [my] classroom as a part of their school and the activities.”

The team is coached by Kaela Yuen, a Liberty teacher who is on maternity leave this year. Yuen, who played basketball at the University of Oregon, professionally overseas, and for the Canadian National Team, has had experience working with students of varying abilities in athletics, as her mother taught in a special education classroom when she was in high school.

“It has always been a dream of mine to offer my passion and gifts for basketball to younger people,” Yuen said. “I also strongly believe in the power of sport to celebrate diversity, bring about unity, and promote inclusion, so coaching this team was a no-brainer.”

The players look forward to Yuen’s practices as a fun time to get their energy out and learn new skills.

“If you have a basketball practice, you can learn triple threats,” junior Ayman King said. “That means you dribble, or pass, or make a basket.”

“You can make baskets. Or dunk the ball. It’s fun because I can exercise and run back and forth,” Tappan said.

The players certainly feel included as part of a unified whole, practicing together on Saturdays and bonding as a team. So what’s it all about?

“It’s about having fun with the whole team and trying to do the moves we learn, the plays, passing the ball,” sophomore Hannah Jorgenson said. “We’re still working on precision moves, syncing up the team.”

Senior Noah Wright agreed, citing that the practices are no different from any other practice.

““We go out there, we do warmups, we do drills, we learn new things, and we just have a lot of fun,” Wright said.

The Unified team will begin games every Saturday from mid-January to February. The Districts game is on February 10, and finalists move on to the State tournament in Wenatchee March 3 to 5.

The team gets to use old uniforms and basketballs that Liberty’s basketball team gave them. More importantly than the gear, though, the players get a sense of school camaraderie.

“It was exciting for us, just feeling like a team,” Jorgenson said.