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Canes Riding VPA’s Unified Wave

  • Natalie Patriquin, of Hartford, folds her hands in prayer while waiting to sub into the fourth quarter of the VPA Unified basketball game with Mill River with teammates Steven Neily, left, Keri Mason, second from left, and Dalton Lemay, back right, at Hartford High School in White River Junction, Vt., Wednesday, April 5, 2017. Coach Heidi Bushway is at right. Hartford won 38 - 37 in overtime. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Dalton Lemay, of Hartford, stretches to receive a pass ahead of Tyler Regula, of Mill River, during their Unified basketball game at Hartford High School in White River Junction, Vt., Wednesday, April 5, 2017. Hartford won 38 - 37. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Hartford's Bianca Severance, left, high-fives Austin Willey, right, in celebration after their 38-37 win over Mill River in their VPA Unified Basketball game at Hartford High School in White River Junction, Vt., Wednesday, April 5, 2017. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Correspondent
Thursday, April 06, 2017

White River Junction — Unified basketball has returned to the Vermont high school docket.

The growing sport, which gained official status from the Vermont Principals Association a year ago, is back for a second campaign. Hartford is one of 15 schools competing statewide this spring.

“The takeaway is this is fantastic,” said VPA associate executive director Bob Johnson when asked about unified hoops’ debut in the Green Mountain State. “It’s probably one of the best things we’ve done in many years, to bring that in as a sanctioned sport.”

Unified basketball includes both athletes and supporting partners, with only the former being permitted to score points.

Johnson said his organization added unified hoops following several years of discussion with Special Olympics Vermont. Implementing the new discipline supported VPA’s goal of inclusion and serving underserved athletes, he said, pointing to ultimate, volleyball and bowling as non-unified programs that have sprouted up in recent years with the same intentions in mind.

“We want kids to be involved, and it’s easy to match with the Special Olympics model,” Johnson said. “The more kids involved, the better.”

New Hampshire brought unified hoops into the fold as a winter sport in the 2012 season with 18 schools. The league has since ballooned to include more than 40 teams this season. Hanover, Newport and Stevens all sponsor unified squads.

“For athletes, it’s a feeling of wearing the uniform and contributing to the school community in a way they haven’t in the past,” said NHIAA executive director Jeff Collins. “It gets them involved and helps them be an integral part of the community.”

Vermont opted for the shoulder season of early spring, which helps cut down on facility conflicts with winter basketball teams. Unified teams started practice in late February and will finish competition in early May before playoff season begins for other spring sports.

Vermont, which is broken up into North and South divisions, will decide its champion next month at Castleton University. Last year’s inaugural title game, won by CVU over Rutland, was played at the University of Vermont. Championship sites will shift between the two regions in alternate years, according to Johnson.

Other southern teams along with Hartford include Brattleboro, Otter Valley, Rutland, Springfield, Middlebury, Leland & Gray and Mill River. The northern division includes Mount Mansfield, CVU, Colchester, BFA-St. Albans, Burlington, Montpelier and Milton.

Vermont’s program is likely to grow like its Twin State counterpart, as five or so schools are in the wings waiting for enough personnel, Johnson said. Teams generally play between six and eight games per season.

NHIAA also features unified soccer, track and field and volleyball, according to Collins.

Vermont may one day follow suit.

“We might add more,” Johnson said. “But we wanted to do (basketball) and do it right before expanding.”

Hartford is riding that wave.

The Hurricanes defeated Mill River in overtime, 38-37, in their home opener on Wednesday. Hartford improved to 2-1 behind 24 points from Dalton Lemay and 14 from Derek Davis.

“It was a tough game, but a nailbiter,” said Lemay, who wore his game jersey in school on Wednesday. “We fought hard, and a game’s a game. It’s all about playing, having fun, good sportsmanship, and that’s why we do it.”

Hartford sustained 27 points from Mill River sharpshooter Ian Smith, who hit five 3-pointers. Davis was huge down the stretch, scoring Hartford’s final bucket of regulation on a turnaround foul-line jumper with 1:16 remaining in the game. The senior went on to score all four of his team’s overtime points to secure the win.

The Hurricanes are led by second year-coach Heidi Bushway, who also serves as Hartford’s JV girls coach. Bushway’s squad returns to action with home games Monday against Rutland and Wednesday with Otter Valley.