The Play Unified team at Millburn High School consists of special needs students and other volunteers. The goal is to spread sportsmanship and acceptance to all members of our community through sports. The team is year round and plays a different sport each season. Currently, the team is focused on basketball. I interviewed 2 special needs students involved, Vikram Ganti and Devon Hampton to gain some insight on how Play Unified has impacted their lives.

  1. What’s your favorite part about being on the Play Unified team?

Devon: “I do like being with my friends on it and working with others, especially other students we’ve had in the program.”

Vikram: “I like being with all my friends.”

2. I know the team plays different sports, depending on the season. Which sport from this year has been your favorite?

Devon: “It’s a hard one, but the real reason why it’s easy to say basketball is only because it was the first one I had ever played in.”

Vikram: “Basketball, because I’m really good at it.”

3. How long have you been playing on this team?

Devon: “Well, it’s hard to explain that because I kind of joined midway through the first year I was here. So it was freshman year.”

Vikram: “This is my second year.”

4. If you had to say one thing to your coaches about how the team has impacted your life, what would you say?

Devon: “I would say they’ve definitely done a good job being coaches because they really know how to boost us up… They just help us be us.”

Vikram: “This team has really changed me and I’ve gotten a lot better at basketball.”

I also interviewed the coaches and partners to find out why they dedicate their valuable time to this specific team.

  1. What makes you want to support the Play Unified team? What drives you to put your time and efforts into it?

Coach Cantagallo: “The dedication the players show inspires me.”

Mr. Askins: “For me, it is all about the joy the students and families get from the activities.  I know enjoyed competing and representing my school and it is great to see the kids do the same.”

Katie Schneider: “I support the play unified team because of the rewarding feelings I always obtain from my teammates throughout the season. I put effort into the team because it is something I love doing and it helps me have a greater understanding of those around me.”

Nicholas Woros: “What makes me want to support the Play Unified team is the community it has created. I consider every teammate my friend and enjoy spending time with them. All the students on the team are very caring and compassionate for each other. Going to practice or games is always so much fun because I get to hang out with the team.” 

2. What’s your favorite part about helping out this team?

Coach Cantagallo: “The real feel of how sports should be experienced. All the competition, adversity, and life lessons without the aggressiveness that can be common place in High school sports.”

Mr. Askins: “Watching the joy that the kids get when they play other teams and when they practice.”

Katie Schneider: “My favorite part about helping this team is the friendships that everyone develops throughout the season. It’s a great opportunity to make new friends or even just talk to people that you wouldn’t necessarily talk to on a daily basis.”

Nicholas Woros: “The Unified Team has had so many amazing opportunities. One of my favorite memories was when we played against the pro football players last year. The Millburn High School gym was packed. It was a crazy atmosphere to play in. It was so loud that you could almost not hear your own teammates. Also, the United Team played at Princeton’s Jadwin Gymnasium last year (which is where the D1 men and women play.) It was a surreal experience. You would look up at the scoreboard and see your team’s stats.”

3. Have you worked with the team in the past? If so, in what capacity?

Coach Cantagallo: “I have been the Head coach for the past 4 years.”

Mr. Askins: “I have been the coordinator since the inception.  It is my pleasure helping out the players and the coaches.”

Katie Schneider: “I started helping out with team unified last year (my sophomore year) and absolutely loved it so I decided to continue doing it this year and plan on doing it next year as well!” 

Nicholas Woros: “This is now my second year participating on the Play Unified team. I participate in both sports seasons (basketball and soccer.) Recently, I learned about other opportunities to participate in Unified Clubs at the high school. Next year I would love to join the Unified Art Club and maybe the Unified gym program.”

4. What is the biggest challenge you face being a part of such a team?

Coach Cantagallo: “Keeping a healthy balance of skill work and fun sport competitions filling practices. We want every having an enjoyable time but also enhancing their talents so the can be successful.”

Mr. Askins: “Continuing to get more kids involved.”

Katie Schneider: “The biggest challenge I face being apart of this team is trying to help other people in our school realize that the unified team is no different than any other team at MHS.”

Nicholas Woros: “Honestly, nothing about Unified Sports is challenging which makes it so fun. It is a great environment to learn sports and make new friends along the way. If anyone reading this article is hesitant about joining, they shouldn’t be. All skills are accepted and overall United Sports is one of the best parts about MHS.”

5. If you had to impart one piece of advice on the team members (be it for life, sports, etc.), what would you say?

Coach Cantagallo: “Learn the difference between right and wrong. Even in the face of great adversity do what is right.”

Mr. Askins: “Keep working hard and try your best at everything that you do.”

Katie Schneider: “One piece of advice I would give my teammates would be to never give up and to always do what you love.”

Nicholas Woros: “I would tell the team to keep practicing. Many of our team members started out not knowing how to play basketball or soccer. Now as a team we can pass, dribble, and score. It is amazing how much everyone has gotten better. Although this year we did not win the NJSIAA basketball tournament, I think that with hard work and practice we will be able to win the tournament next year.”

The overall sense I got by looking through all their perspectives is that the team is not so much about sports, as it may seem on the surface. With sports, there’s the baggage of winning and personal glory. While those aspects are not entirely absent from the Play Unified team, it’s clear that motivations on both sides go beyond the expected. The Play Unified team is about inclusion in the most natural way possible facilitated through how sports can bring us together, not tear us apart.

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