WASHS basketball makes strides toward inclusion
The Record Herald - 1/19/2019
Jan. 17--WAYNESBORO -- Friday night's boys' basketball game between the Waynesboro Indians and the Northern York Polar Bears is sure to be one for the books. Not only is it a matchup between the two top teams in the Mid-Penn Colonial Division, but the Indians will have a special ceremony with the Waynesboro Area Senior High School's learning support and autism support classes.
The game, which is a first of its kind at WASHS, is part of a stride forward carrying the message of inclusion for all by the Athletes Helping Athletes organization.
"This is about getting athletes who are involved in sports in high school or college and involving special needs kids," explained Laura Richardson, WASHS autism support teacher.
WASHS learning support teacher Josh Sprenkle added, "They do a lot of things like honorary captains for a football game or football skills day to do drills with the kids like kicking footballs; we are going to do something very similar here."
The program, Athletes Helping Athletes founded by Rick Leonetti, is currently in 14 universities and 30 high schools in Pennsylvania with an aim of making a difference by providing funding to special needs organizations, providing awareness and community support and offering other extra-curricular events and activities.
"This all started in 2001," said Sprenkle. "The motto of the organization is to create a world of better understanding. This helps to bring some of the hardships that our special needs students face on a day-to-day basis into the mainstream through sports."
The special needs students attended a basketball practice Wednesday evening with the team to work on skills and will be paired with a basketball player "buddy" who they will be introduced with before Friday's rematch between the Indians, who are 11-1, and the Polar Bears, who have a record of 13-1. The varsity game is set to start around 7:30 p.m.
Einie Blakey, one of the Athletes Helping Athletes, will be joined by Richardson in the singing of the national anthem.
WASHS senior Trenton Green is one of the many students who participated in special needs activities throughout the year and has seen its benefit in his own life.
"I used to work with athletes, I was the middle school basketball manager, that's how I got involved; I love sports, I'll never give up on that," said Green, who will be among the 10 students participating in Friday's pre-game festivities. "My favorite part of all this is hanging out with the team and running out with them, it's a good thing that I'm doing, it's pretty awesome."
WASHS basketball coach Tom Hoffman, whose wife has been a special education teacher for 25 years, knows about the importance of inclusion and involvement.
"The interesting thing that I have found in the relationships with special needs students that I have both formed as well as observed is that they impact our lives more than we impact theirs," Hoffman said. "They actually serve as 'mentors' for us on how to live life to the fullest each day with the right attitude and mindset. We can learn so much from their approach to life, and we are absolutely excited to partner with them in any way we can."
Senior guard Derek Buhrman shared insight into the team's climate regarding Friday's events. "I think everyone is really excited about it," explained Buhrman. "We are going to play hard and stay focused on the game; it's all for them, we're playing for them."
Sprenkle added, "I think this is super exciting, there hasn't been something similar that we've been able to do here to highlight their talents, this is a big deal. This is a different way to highlight our special need kids."
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