Proud I.H.S. Project UNIFY basketball team head to championship games. Back Row: Lyns Emetil Juan Carlos Jaimes Alejandro Olvera, Damian Gonzales, Antonio Jaimes. Front Row: Michael Temaj, Alberto Bonilla, Andres Domingo, Alex Mateo. (Submitted photo/Kelly Stevenson-Crews)
The Immokalee High School Project UNIFY basketball team is pumped! They returned home January 8 as victors in their 53-49 semi-final match-up against Zephyrhills, extending their undefeated season (6-0). The team will go on to compete in the 2016 Division 2 state titles at the Lakeland Center February 17-18. With just 33 second left, the Indian team pulled ahead of the 49-49 tie for the win. According to Coordinator Kelly Stevenson-Crews “the kids were elated!” They took about 20 people, including players and fans to the game to witness the feat. Through Project UNIFY these special athletes are recognized with their peers for their athletic success. They are a full-fledged team - part of the school community - proudly wearing the Immokalee Indian jersey. They get their fair share of recognition as school athletes. Their partners find a whole new appreciation for Special Olympics and that these athletes have the same abilities and skills as everyone else, Ms. Stevenson-Crews points out. She said that, for some 12 years, Immokalee High School ‘s Project UNIFY basketball team has matched a Special Olympics athlete with a main stream student athlete, but this is the first year that the Florida High School Athletic Association has sanctioned varsity level Project UNIFY play. There are nine players on the team, four Special Olympians and five main stream students Devarius Johnson began as a Unified partner, playing on the team, and has remained involved ever since. In this, his first year as Project UNIFY basketball coach, he has led his team to an undefeated season and now to slot in the championship final four. Ms. Stevenson-Crews praised Coach Johnson for his dedication to his team. Because of his coaching, she said, “they are a family. They play like a team. He’s really, really good!” The team practices twice a week for two-three hours each session. Coach Johnson even videos their games and reviews them with the team.