Liz Hayden is in her first season volunteering as a partner in the Jonathan Law Unified Sports program, and is getting even more out of the experience than she expected.

“I thought it was going to be fun but it is better than I expected,” Hayden said of working with special needs athletes who, thanks to the program, have a chance to play organized school sports.

The best part for Hayden: “The kids — they’re great.”

Hayden is among several newcomers to the program, which includes a winter basketball season.

The Unified team has practiced and participated in games and tournaments throughout the winter months.

Patricia Daniels, a special education teacher and coach of the team said there are now 25 participants including returnees, such as second-year partner Myles Boyd.

“It’s a lot of fun. It just builds relationships that will last a lifetime,” Boyd said.

Partners help athletes, as needed, learn skills and apply them on the court. They also assist opposing team members as emphasis is put on sportsmanship and participation among everyone involved.

“That’s the best is seeing them work together and also networking with the other schools at tournaments,” Daniels said.

Law participated in a half-dozen tourneys this winter, and regular practices keep the athletes and partners engaged and sharp on the court.

When it comes time for a tournament, the Lawmen and Lady Lawmen are ready at the beginning of the school day.

“They have a blast. They look so forward to it. They all wear their team shirt to school that day just like the other teams do,” Daniels said. “They enjoy the bus rides there, the bus rides home, and the games.”

And the postgame pizza parties too.

“It’s so nice to see the kids be able to participate in a sport that they might not otherwise be able to play, and seeing the teamwork and relationships they form over the years is really rewarding. They even continue relationships after high school,” Daniels said.

Members of the Law team are Richard Anderson, Ciara Boyd, Myles Boyd, Hunter Boyd, Slade Broga, Hunter Cain, Anthony Correia, Luigi DeCastro, Gregory Gonzalez, Liz Hayden, Atul Joseph, Amanda Mainieri, Matt Mainieri, Peter Marinello, Richie McGrath, Burak Ocak, Kristen Parks, Chris Pinto, Bridget Sanchez, Molly Sullivan and Kelly Warrington.