Unified Basketball, Dunking, Community

We are lucky at Special Olympics Massachusetts. So many great people. So many great communities.

Our Greater Lawrence Basketball League in one such example. This league has all the key ingredients of an inclusive and amazing Special Olympics Community: Great athletes, incredible volunteer coaches, an engaged school-based host group (Brooks School in North Andover) and of course… the only unified slam-dunk contest in the world!

Brooks School student-athlete Ethan Gabert-Doyon made this video highlighting all the action!



Michael Cappello – Hall of Fame – Coach

Mike Cappello is an adaptive physical education teacher at the Dartmouth Public Schools and a Special Olympics Massachusetts coach. Twenty three years ago, he started a Special Olympics track and field team. As his students graduated, he also started a “graduates” program. Three years ago, the Dartmouth program added flag football and basketball teams, and Cappello has recruited and mentored new coaches for both of these programs.

Cappello organizes and manages the annual Dartmouth School Day Games each May, where students from Dartmouth, New Bedford, Fall River, and Westport participate in a track and field meet. What started as a meet with roughly 50 Dartmouth students has turned into an event for over 200 students across four different communities.

On October 2nd, Cappello, along with a class of athletes, coaches, volunteers, families and sponsors, will be recognized at the 2014 Special Olympics Massachusetts Hall of Fame induction ceremony at The Yawkey Sports Training Center in Marlborough, MA.


Recently, Cappello expanded his roster to start a Unified track program in Dartmouth. Of this new challenge, Mike said, “I’ve never seen my athletes so excited about a competition. With an individual sport like track and field, this taught them the importance of teamwork, something they love and depend on, not only in sports, but in the classroom, at home and in the community”.

Last spring, Dartmouth parents nominated Cappello for the “Live with Kelly and Michael Teacher of the Year” contest. Mike beat out thousands of other teachers to be in the Top 15 semi-finalist category. As part of the nomination, a parent told Kelly and Michael that, “He’s built the confidence of my daughter, and he’s done that for many kids over many years. He’s got the tough love, but he’s got a way about him that he can get kids to do what they need to do without becoming someone less. It comes naturally to him, he just does it because it’s the right thing to do”.



Stucchi Family – Hall of Fame

The Stucchi Family have been involved with Special Olympics Massachusetts through the Shrewsbury program for 15 years. Son Peter plays on the basketball, soccer and bocce teams as an athlete. His sister Amy and her husband Adam volunteer their time as Unified partners in basketball and fundraise for Special Olympics Massachusetts. Mother and father Debbie and Tim are bocce Unified partners, and Tim is a coach and official for basketball. They have also previously been involved with Special Olympics Colorado. Baby Summer is a bit young, but the family has big plans for her as well.

On October 2nd, the Stucchi family, along with a class of athletes, coaches, volunteers, families and sponsors, will be recognized at the 2014 Special Olympics Massachusetts Hall of Fame induction ceremony at The Yawkey Sports Training Center in Marlborough, MA.stucchi_family“We started primarily with Peter participating and then Debbie and I got involved as [Unified] partners and then his sister Amy got involved,” said father Tim. “And then we went from partnering to coaching and officiating a little bit, and then Peter was asked to do the global messaging, and then after that both Amy and Adam got involved in fundraising and as partners.”

“Someday Summer will be a partner,” said Debbie of her granddaughter. “She’ll be Peter’s bocce partner.”


Darren Fleurent – Hall of Fame – Coach

Darren Fleurent has been involved with Special Olympics Massachusetts as a head coach and Unified partner for 15 years. He first became involved as a Unified partner in softball, because of his brother, who is an athlete. Fleurent has coached flag football, basketball and volleyball over the years and has been instrumental in recruiting Unified partners, athletes and coaches for these teams. This October 2nd, Fleurent along with a class of athletes, coaches, volunteers, families and sponsors, will be recognized at the 2014 Special Olympics Massachusetts Hall of Fame induction ceremony at The Yawkey Sports Training Center in Marlborough, MA.


Fleurent was aided in the leap from Unified partner to coach by mentors who had been coaching for years before in the New Bedford program — “People to bounce ideas off of and ask questions if needed.” As the years went by and he gained more experience, Fleurent would find himself one of those people. A mentor.

“It’s a surprise, I did not expect it,” said Fleurent on being inducted into the Special Olympics Massachusetts Hall of Fame. “Just to be recognized was enough for me … It’s quite an honor.”

From Special Olympics fan to Unified partner, coach and now hall-of-famer, Fleurent has gained a great appreciation for the power of sports. “From an athletic standpoint, it’s trying to do your best and go for the gold and win, but you make friends and have fun and you realize that sports are more than about the competition.”

Humbled and proud

Special Olympics Massachusetts Unified partner Kim Bauser writes about competing with GMPI (Greater Marlboro Programs, Inc.) Unified track and field. 

“We’re going to need you to run a time trial for the 400 meter.” This was about fifteen minutes into my first practice, and my first direct experience with Special Olympics ever. I was still taking in the warm welcome and warm-up stretches. And, to be honest, I was already overwhelmed and more than a little nervous, with more than a decade between me and the last time I’d tried to run a quarter-mile “fast.”

I’d thought I was signing up to be a running buddy, or a jog-along cheerleader for the athletes, whom I would gladly encourage, positive and smiling all the way, feeling great about myself for this good thing I was doing. Instead, I was the athlete, and I was trying not to dry heave as I all but crawled across the finish line. My fellow athletes were the ones smiling and cheering me on. Humbling barely begins to describe. (And that was before I tried to throw the turbo javelin.)

I had joined the GMPI track team as a Special Olympics Unified partner. Invited by a friend, I had no prior training or qualifications, and I clearly had little idea what I was getting myself into or the impact it would have on me. My humbling experience, as it turned out, had barely begun.

Unified partner Kim Bauser, left, with GMPI athlete Erin Delahunty.

As we gathered for the state competition in June, I was humbled by the coaches and volunteers who give and have given of their time and energy selflessly, some for years and even decades. I was humbled by the caretakers, families and other loved ones who were there and, in many cases, are always there, to accompany and applaud their children, siblings or friends. These individuals’ commitment to their athletes, families and communities certainly put my lap or two around the track to shame.

But even more than any of those, I was humbled by my fellow athletes, my new friends. Having been instantly welcomed into the sisterhood of several of the women on the team, I got to run and cheer alongside them and all our athletes. They encouraged our teammates, as well as friends from other teams. They celebrated more than a few wins, but congratulated every effort with the same sincerity and enthusiasm. Our athletes loved competing. Two of the women even ran an extra “demonstration” mile — just for fun! As I struggled through my events, they hollered and applauded and spoke to me the very pep talks I had expected to speak to them. They told me to do my best and “be brave in the attempt,” and modeled the same. It was probably the most fun I’ve ever had at a track meet!

Humbled as I was, I was an athlete in Special Olympics. And I have never been more proud to be a part of a team.

Embracing Diversity

Lexie Koziel is a junior at Algonquin Regional High School, in Northborough, Massachusetts, and participates on the Unified track team, consisting of athletes with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities. She recently attended the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association annual meeting with Special Olympics Massachusetts’ President and CEO, Mary Beth McMahon. Lexie has learned the true meaning of diversity through participating in Unified sports and describes, below, exactly what it means to her.

Lexie Koziel : Unified Sports Athlete

Lexie Koziel : Unified Sports athlete

“On your mark, get set, boom! The race gun goes off and my six teammates hesitate for a moment and then start moving. While four of them run ahead, one runs into the wrong lane and another walks far behind. This is a typical scene at the one hundred meter dash at a unified track meet. I have been lucky to participate on a unified track team, an athletic opportunity open to peers with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Not only has participating on this team made me more tolerant and inclusive, it has also given me great insight into what diversity means to me. Diversity is the condition of being different.

With diversity comes a choice: reject it or embrace it. By accepting diversity I have become friends with some of the nicest, funniest, and most thoughtful people I will ever meet. Through Best Buddies, the Special Olympics Youth Activation Council, and Unified Track, I have made lifelong friendships and have had the opportunity to be involved with activities that I would not have known about if I had chosen to reject diversity. In this sense diversity means opportunities.

Being a member of the unified track team has allowed me to gain insight into the realm of diversity and given me lasting memories. During the past unified track season I got to know Henry, a quiet boy with intellectual disabilities. We had similar personalities and he needed a little extra help staying on task. As time went on Henry became more engaged.  At the state meet we stayed together. I cheered Henry on while he competed and we watched other teammates race. At the end of the day Henry said my name for the first time and we had a brief conversation. Before this day our conversations had been one sided where I asked questions and he answered them with one word. I look forward to partnering with Henry again this season. Thus, diversity means friendship.

Diversity has also allowed me to grow and become less shy. I am a quiet person in general, but by joining groups that support diversity I have gained confidence and leadership skills. Therefore, diversity means positive change.

As defined by the dictionary, diversity is the condition of being different. When you accept diversity you open yourself to a bundle of valuable experiences: friendship, opportunities, and positive change. I ask each of you, are you going to reject or embrace diversity?”


Unified Mid-Wach League Track & Field Championship

Athletes run in the inaugural Unified Sports Mid-Wach League High School Championship, at Lunenburg on May 19th.

The week before it was overcast and rainy, but fortune shined in the form of 80-degree, picture perfect weather for the inaugural Unified Sports Track & Field Midland Wachusett League Championship at Lunenburg High School on the Saturday of May 19th.

As the heat emanated off the blue rubberized track, eight teams of Special Olympics Massachusetts Unified high school athletes competed in field events featuring the turbo javelin, shot put and long jump and track events consisting of the 100m, 400m, 800m, 4x100m and 4x400m. Lunenburg was host to teams from Algonquin/Westborough, Fitchburg, Hudson, Marlborough, Milford, Nashoba and Oxford High School. Continue reading