LIVERMORE — Regional School Unit 73 may soon add a unified basketball program to its sports offerings, after the board of directors gave unanimous support for the project Thursday night.

Spruce Mountain High School Athletic Director Marc Keller said unified basketball is a program of the Maine Principals’ Association in partnership with Special Olympics. During games, three students who qualify for Special Olympics and two unified partners are on the floor at all times.

The unified basketball program has two options. Schools may choose to be competitive and strive to win a gold ball through a state championship program, Keller said.

“It’s less competitive, gives students a chance to go out and play, learn the game, meet new people and develop partnerships,” Keller said. “It’s mostly comprised of the athletic ability of the unified athlete.”

Keller said there are specific rules. Varsity basketball athletes may not be partners. Athletes from other varsity programs may participate.

“The unified partners are there to help the athletes understand the game, the rules, help them with skills,” Keller said. “Seventy-five percent of the points scored must be made by the unified athletes.

Keller said with the board’s support he would move forward to see if there was interest within the student body, both by unified athletes and partners.

If there is interest, the program would start in January and go through the beginning of March. Games would start the third week of January with the last game played the first week in March.

“The first two years we would receive financial assistance from Special Olympics of Maine,” Keller said. The amount would be “$2,500 the first year and $2,000 the second. The hope is that it becomes part of the school budget at that point.”

Director Michael Morrell said, “Oxford Hills has a unified basketball team and it’s fantastic. During winter carnival the team plays the staff. It’s a really fun event, gets the whole school in on it. It’s a great program.”

Keller said he has heard that games are better off being held right after school. Students can stay and be supportive.

“It brings students together,” he said.

Director Lynn Ouellette asked if $2,500 would be sufficient to run the program the first year.

Keller said that was a good question. Practices would only be one or two days a week. Many Mountain Valley Conference schools have programs. There would be less traveling than for varsity teams.

The school has to make a commitment to the program by early November to get on the schedule.

Keller expected Spruce Mountain would choose the participation program. If games had a charge or donation to watch, that money would go back to the program.

Director Dale Leblanc said he had heard that the unified arts program outdraws varsity programs at a number of schools.

In other business, the board voted to move the district budget vote in Jay, Livermore and Livermore Falls from April 21 to April 28, 2020.

When Superintendent Scott Albert met with town managers last week they realized the original dates fell during April vacation.

“Some town managers might not be around that week,” Albert said. “More people might come out for the vote then.”

Similarly, the April 23, 2020, directors’ meeting was also moved from vacation week to April 30.

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