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Torrington hosts Unified Sports NVL Tournament. Another great event!

POSTED March 10, 2016
BY Timothy W. Gaffney
Twitter: @TimothyGaffney

TORRINGTON: If you watch a Unified Sports event and don’t get a couple of tears welling up in your eyes, I’d advise you to check your pulse because there is something wrong.

It’s that kind of special.

Torrington High School held the Naugatuck Valley League Unified basketball tournament on Thursday afternoon in the Connie Donahue Gymnasium.

Eight different teams showed up as two courts were used with a pair of games going at once for two hours, giving the Unified athletes and their high school counterparts plenty of time to play, laugh and celebrate what it means to play sports.

It’s coming up on March Madness in college basketball and soon the entire nation will forget about productivity and focus on their brackets like there is no tomorrow.

On the courts in Torrington on a warm near spring day, March Madness was replaced by March gladness for all involved.

In Unified, everybody wins in the best way possible. We celebrate the joy of teamwork, of celebrating when another player on another team scores a basket.

The site of a partner and a Unified player walking hand in hand up and down the court, simply enjoying being part of this event is astounding to watch and it happens every time one of these events is held.

Or when both teams give one player as many tries as they need to make the basket is something to behold.

All are part of this, no one is excluded.

We have watched the Unified Sports program grow now for better than three years. It was started in Torrington by former Raider baseball coach Gerry Carbone who was tasked with putting it together.

What started as a project without necessarily a specific goal in mind has blossomed into something pretty amazing to watch.

Did Carbone see it going like this when he began?

“No.” Carbone said. “I knew we would get somewhere but I never knew quite the involvement. The way the student body embraces it. You see the other teams and the comradery and it’s just amazing. The kids that help just come out of the woodwork and it’s all from the heart. They clearly enjoy doing it and they’re out here playing ball.”

George Synott is the Director of Unified Sports for the CIAC and traveled to Torrington on Thursday.

“It’s a wonderful program.” Synott said. “The Naugatuck Valley League has done a super job. A couple of year ago I asked the commissioners of the conferences around the state if they could take some ownership for Unified Sports and they just responded fantastically and this is a good example of it. We have most of the public schools in the Naugatuck Valley with Unified Sports programs. They have taken it upon themselves to run these kinds of conference tournaments. In addition to that, the schools within the conference are pairing up and playing other schools so the net result is over the last couple of years is that these kids are playing a heck of a lot of more basketball, soccer, volleyball and track then they had ever done before. The program has really mushroomed.”

Part of the beauty of this program cannot be understated in its value to the community and a large issue in any community. Bullying.

Let’s face it, in days past it was these Unified Sports athletes who would take the brunt of a great deal of bullying because they were viewed as different.

Now they are playing side by side with the players who they might never have gotten to know if not for this program.

It has also, no doubt, helped the athletes who feel part of something pretty special.

“It’s amazing,” Stefan LaForge said. “I’ve been doing this for about three years. I love it. I see them in the hallway and say hello to them so they know we are all here. The school loves Unified and everyone supports us.”

How much do the athletes get out of this and how much does it affect them?

“We hold a recognition banquet every year at the end of the school year.” Synott said. “One of the things we had at that banquet is and essay contest for partners. The responses that we get in those essays is absolutely phenomenal. The impact of the relationships with the athletes, with the kids with disabilities is just unbelievable. I think the partners, the non-disabled players get as much out of this programs as the athletes do, the disabled kids. That kind of social inclusion is phenomenal.”

Six volunteer referees were on hand to give it even more of a real game feeling, including long time ref, Terri Mussleman who was beaming with the rest of the crowd.

“It’s exciting to be able to give back.” Mussleman said. “This time of the year, Lent is a big thing for me so giving back to the community and doing some random act of kindness is a big thing for me today. From a hectic day, this is also a great stress breaker for me.”

I’ve often said it, if you need a reason to smile or to forget your trouble for a few hours, make your way to one of these events. You will never regret it and your day.

Great job everybody. See you out there soon!

I hear volleyball may be the next challenge. Bring it on!

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