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Unified basketball levels playing 'court' at AHS

ALBANY, N.Y. (April 17, 2019) – It’s season two for the Albany High School unified basketball team and the athletes are not only ready, but also incredibly excited for competition on the court.

“At first when I started I was nervous but then I played that first game and I got the hang of it,” said Iazel Royal, an Albany High School senior and returning athlete.

Unified sports teams are composed of students with intellectual disabilities (athletes) and students without intellectual disabilities (partners). Albany High’s roster has increased from 16 athletes last season to 22 this season and is made up of students in grades 9-12.

“I feel lucky to be able to participate in varsity soccer at school and I want to give my fellow classmates the opportunity to participate in the same way,” explained Paul Criscione, a unified partner and also a senior at Albany High School.

The team is coached by Matt Moore (teacher), Kristy Kruse-Koldis (counselor), Dion Thomas (home school coordinator) and Judith Ellis (teacher). Teacher Nancy Dignum is a coordinator along with teacher Stacey Spilman, who started the team with a very clear purpose.

“Providing every student the same experience is a top priority at Albany High School. It’s amazing to watch our athletes grow, on and off the court, because of this team. The relationships formed in this gym carry over into the hallways and out of school and that’s really important,” Spilman said.

Both the athletes and the partners have big aspirations for this upcoming season - and rightfully so. In 2018 Albany High finished second in the Section II Unified Basketball Tournament.

“We just have to keep working harder and try even harder,” maintained Royal.

As with any team though, it’s not just about the score. The goal of the Falcon unified basketball team is to educate and motivate young people to become agents of change, through inclusion and acceptance, in their communities.

“I love making connections with the athletes. They are so passionate,” added Criscione.

That, in itself, is proof that despite not having played a game yet, Albany's unified basketball team is already winning.

Tip-off for the unified team’s first game is May 6 at 4:15 p.m. at home. Come cheer on your fellow Falcons to victory over Columbia High School.

The mission of the City School District of Albany is to work in partnership with our diverse community to engage every learner in a robust educational program designed to provide the knowledge and skills necessary for success. The district serves about 9,500 students in 18 elementary, middle and high schools. In addition to neighborhood schools, the district includes several magnet schools and programs, as well as other innovative academic opportunities for students, including four themed academies at Albany High School.

         
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