A special team: Silverton Unified squad earns ESPN Champion School honors

February 2022 Posted in People, sports

By James Day

The Unified special needs teams from Amity and Silverton entertained an enthusiastic crowd on Tuesday, Feb. 15 at Silverton, with Amity taking a 43-37 win that didn’t seem to matter amid the oohs and aahs that greeted each basket.

But that’s the beauty of the Unified game. It’s all about getting out there and trying a new skill and enjoying being on the court with your teammates.

The Silverton Unified team received a plaque from ESPN for being named national program of the year for 2020.

The crowd cheered no matter who made the baskets and cheered again at halftime as the Silverton team received a banner from Special Olympics of Oregon that honors the program for meeting a set of national standards. The banner will join an earlier banner the program received in 2018 for meeting state standards.

The coup de grace was a plaque that the team received from the ESPN network for being a National Champion School for 2020.

“This really can’t happen without all the other students getting involved and making the Unified team feel welcome,” said Hank Ulven, special education teacher and JV girls basketball coach for the Foxes. “I think it is cool that we are getting this recognition.”

For those who have never seen a Unified game, here’s how it works. Each team sends out three special needs athletes with two partners, often athletes from other sports. For example, Silverton football players Sawyer Enderle and Nolan Meyer and volleyball player Olivia Rosborough and softball player Olivia Hickam serve as partners for the Foxes. Partners get rebounds and pass the ball to the athletes and sometimes help them down court but seldom if ever shoot. Officials are on hand but no fouls are called and no one cares about double dribble violations or traveling. It’s all about the joy of putting the ball in the hoop and high-fiving everyone in sight.

The Silverton fans, including the entire varsity girls basketball team which was playing West Albany later that night, stood throughout the contest, displaying signs to honor the athletes and the partners. The students also formed a huge path for the athletes to run through during pre-game introductions.

Turning in strong games for the Foxes were Dayton ‘Flash’ Hall, Braedon ‘The Time Ninja’ Reniere and Sebastian ‘Buzz Lightyear’ Benavidez. Hall and Benavidez showed a nice touch both inside and outside, with Reniere scoring on one play in which he crouched down on one knee and exploded up toward the basket while putting the ball in the hoop.

Then there was Kiele ‘Hawaiian Princess’ Pahia, who employed a unique underhanded shooting style. She didn’t connect but came close a couple of times. The crowd was so much in her corner that one felt that if she had made a basket the fans would have surged onto the floor and carried her around the court in triumph.

Reniere, meanwhile, decided to give the reporter a nickname. Because of all of the questions I asked during a visit to the team room he decided to call me “Mr. Wise Guy.” Nicknames are important in Unified ball, and this one is being carried with honor.

“It’s all about having fun and giving them something to remember long beyond high school,” said Channon MacBean, the Silverton head coach and special needs assistant at the high school.

Enderle noted that he has two siblings that are severely disabled and said he got involved “to try to put smiles on their faces.”

Ulven, who has been working with the Unified team for five years, said “in today’s world this is something everyone can come together to enjoy watching. I have the best job in the world, bar none.”


Silverton Unified team

Jackie ‘J Money’ Leao
Ashley ‘Lil Shorty Ash’ Acosta Solis
Logan ‘Dragon Slayer’ Simar
Dayton ‘Flash’ Hall
Braedon ‘The Time Ninja’ Reniere
Dakota Miller
Caleb ‘The Lunch Detentioner’ Diaz-Chacon
Sebastian ‘Buzz Lightyear’ Benavidez
Kiele ‘Hawaiian Princess’ Pahia
Tyler ‘Green Lantern’ Wright
Jeremiah ‘Jerry’ Coppedge

Sawyer Enderle, Harrison Kuenzi, Nolan Meyer, Olivia Rosborough, Olivia Hickam, Trillian Hawley, Avery Lord

Head Coach: Channon MacBean

Assistants: Daniel Briseno, Katie ‘Chaos’ Kramer, Isaac Moore, Will Silcox

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