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Pat Daniels was a part of Jonathan Law’s Unified Sports program getting started 10 years ago. Little did she know how much it would take off over the course of the next decade.

“It’s grown a lot,” Daniels said. “We started out with only a handful of players, perhaps six or seven, and it’s grown to as many as twenty-two to twenty-five players.”

Those players, and several partners to assist them, participated in Bunnell of Stratford’s Unified Sports Basketball Tournament on March 10.

Over 240 Unified athletes and partners from Bassick, Bethel, Brookfield, Bunnell, Foran, Joel Barlow, Jonathan Law, Masuk, Newtown, Stratford and West Haven High Schools participated in the event that drew hundreds of spectators.  Fairfield County IAABO#9 basketball referees donated their services to officiate and nearly 100 students including the Bunnell cheerleaders and dance teams volunteered to help run the tournament.   

Not only has Law’s program multiplied in terms of sheer numbers, it’s blossomed from an activity standpoint as well. Law offers soccer in the fall, Wiffle Ball between soccer and the start of winter basketball, volleyball and track in the spring, and bowling to keep special needs athletes active from September through June.

“It took off. The school community has really opened up its arms to the program,” Daniels said.

The interaction between partners and athletes makes for a great experience for both.

“They’re learning to work with kids and they build their skills and help the athletes build their skills — they’re both learning,” Daniels said. “It’s huge. The peers are great. They’re the ones that create long-lasting friendships with the athletes.”

One of the partners, senior Michael Capobiano, became involved with Special Olympics before high school, and has helped out with Law’s Unified Sports program all four years.

“It’s really fun,” Capobianco, whose uncle has Down syndrome, says of working with the athletes. “You just think you’re going to help them the first time you do that and then you end up becoming friends.”

One of the things Daniels especially enjoys about the program is the loyalty on the part of students. Many partners come back after graduation to see the team play.

In the Bunnell tourney, squads played in a round-robin format and each lineup got about an hour of exercise as they went against rival teams every 15-or-so minutes. The event culminated with an awards ceremony and the athletes went home with medals for their efforts.

“This is an amazing day. This is just a day that brings me so much joy to see the passion and sportsmanship from the kids and see just how appreciative they are,” Bunnell Athletic Director Meredith Pacelli said.

“In my thirty-four years as educator and athletic director here this was always, and continues, to be my favorite day of the year,” said former Bunnell Athletic Director and current South-West Conference Commissioner Dave Johnson.

Law’s athletes are: Richard Anderson, Alex Berlin, Slade Brogga, Hunter Cain, Robert Daniels, Luigi DeCastro, Jonathan Delgado, Jennifer Gill, Atul Joseph, Kristen Parks, Ryan Riordan and Nathan Tavaros. Partners are Michael Capobianco, Ashley Daniels, Elizabeth Mainieri, Mathew Mainieri, Vishal Maglani, Ire Opayema and Jessica Villa.