DIXFIELD—It’s time to learn to dribble, shoot and jump for many students at TW Kelly Dirigo Middle School who may not have ever played basketball competitively until now.

Seventeen students are participating in a co-ed Unified Basketball team at the school, and the team is made up of students with learning disabilities, named athletes, and students who are their partners in playing the game.

It’s all part of Special Olympics of Maine which offered start-up grants for schools to begin Unified Basketball programs. Dirigo High School Athletic Director and Assistant Principal Jessica McGreevy applied for and received a $2,000 grant which will be used to pay for two coaches’ stipends and for warm-up clothes for the players at TW Kelly Dirigo Middle School.

“It’s a different feel in Unified (Basketball) and I’m excited to see the outcomes of this. We’re here to support all of the kids and to bring all of the kids together. So, we’re really excited for (them),” McGreevy said.

The students have two coaches, physical education teachers Gretchen Curtis and Nathan Schultz, who both say that they are excited about the students’ opportunity.

“I think it’s a great social experience for both sides, for both the partners and the athletes; I think it’s a great way to integrate them. When I met with the partners, they all seemed to be pretty excited to be role models for the kids. And kids learn better from each other; they don’t want to listen to me,” Curtis said with a smile.

The season will be “relatively short,” Athletic Director McGreevy said, about three and a half weeks with a four-game schedule, all played against Mountain Valley Middle School in Mexico.

“Our big event, our final home game is on the 13th of March, we really want to fill the stands. We’re really trying to encourage the community to come out that day and support our student-athletes here.”

Watching from the bleachers during the team’s practice last week, Ruthiegene Ann Lovelace, mother of team player Isaiah Lovelace, said that both she and Isaiah, an eighth-grader at the middle school, are exciting about him playing on the team.

“We tried drama, that didn’t work out, we tried cheering, (in) 6th grade, that didn’t work out. He has autism and he wasn’t able to follow their directions; he wasn’t able to do it. I’m praying that this is going to work out,” Lovelace said.

Shortly after talking about her and her son’s excitement about the game, Lovelace cheered as her son got two baskets. “He’s excited, he wants to do this. That’s amazing. I will get a basketball hoop (for our home) this summer, definitely,” Lovelace said.

Schedule for Unified Basketball games at TW Kelly Dirigo Middle School in Dixfield and at Mountain Valley Middle School in Mexico:
March 4 at DMS at 4 p.m., March 10 at MVMS at 4 p.m., March 13 at DMS at 4 p.m., and March 18 at MVMS at 4 p.m.

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Dirigo Middle School students practice basketball last week to be ready for their first Unified Basketball game against Mountain Valley Middle School on March 4 at Dirigo Middle School at 4 p.m. From left, Eighth-grader Noah Prescott, sixth-grader Gage Hill, seventh-graders Cam Dubay, Nathaniel Wainwright and Carliegh Smith. The program started this year with a grant from Special Olympics of Maine. Marianne Hutchinson/Rumford Falls Times

Dirigo Middle School students practice basketball last week to be ready for their first Unified Basketball game against Mountain Valley Middle School on March 4 at Dirigo Middle School at 4 p.m. From left, eighth-grader Noah Prescott, seventh-grader Riley Knowlton and Coach Nathan Schultz. Marianne Hutchinson/Rumford Falls Times

Dirigo Middle School students practice basketball last week to be ready for their first Unified Basketball game against Mountain Valley Middle School on March 4 at Dirigo Middle School at 4 p.m. From left, seventh-graders Emily Woods, Carleigh Smith and Cam Dubay. Marianne Hutchinson/Rumford Falls Times


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