L.Y. Cairns and Scona Playing Double Team Hoops in Toronto

Cameron and Bryson warming up before practice | Photo courtesy of Shawn Irwin

High school students with and without intellectual disabilities playing on the same team is what Unified Sports is all about, but the partnership of L.Y. Cairns School and Strathcona High School has taken it to the next level.

L.Y. Cairns School athletes and Strathcona High School partners have come together to play on the same team and are representing Alberta in basketball at the 2019 Special Olympics Ontario Youth Games.

For head coach Shawn Irwin the partnership developed organically, as L.Y. Cairns only has athletes and bringing in partners from Scona has been mutually beneficial for both schools.

“We’re in that unique situation in that we have two different schools, so the thing I find cool about it is that I have gotten the kids together for a few practices and you know they get along perfectly fine right away,” said Shawn. “It is kind of cool to see the way they interact with one another – that is for sure.”

The Youth Games 2019 features over 2000 high school students from across the globe competing in Toronto from May 14 to 17 in one of five sports: athletics, basketball, bocce, floor hockey, and soccer; along with a Youth Leadership Summit.

This is the first international sports competition for high school aged students with and without intellectual disabilities.

“Considering it is in Toronto it is going to be really cool because the events we usually participate in are right around Edmonton,” Shawn said. “I think that Unified Sports is an amazing thing to get kids to come together that may never have been able to work together before.”

Shawn will be joined by Coach Henry Quaye and a team of six students including: Bryson Johnston, Cameron Morley, Aaron Frenette, A.J. Fowler, Courage Sorinolu, and Nyasha Mubayiwa.

The team practiced together a few times leading up to the Youth Games and Shawn said it has been a seamless process with everyone enjoying getting to play together, which is something he values highly.

“One of my big things – and I have been teaching here for quite a while – is that there are tons of kids with intellectual disabilities that are fully able to participate on a team and not just as the equipment manager – so that’s what I would like to see,” Shawn said.

When Shawn began teaching at L.Y. Cairns they did not have a team and he has been instrumental in getting the students involved with basketball to give kids an opportunity to simply play.

LYC / Scona 2018
LYC / Scona won the High School Champions Award at the 2018 Metro Unified Jamboree

He has been part of Unified ever since it started in Alberta and he advocated that the growth is impressive as early events featured 50 kids and now the numbers are in the hundreds.

Shawn thinks getting involved in Unified is essential for any schools with the capabilities to do so and that while coaching Unified Sports may be a unique experience it is more than worth it.

“I would say that people think of coaching as very detail oriented like practices, practices and it doesn’t have to be that way,” said Shawn. “It’s more about the participation and having fun and just go out there and be active and the way that the kids react and have fun it just makes it totally worthwhile.”

“The time commitment is very low compared to the reward that you get back.”

As far as advice goes for the team this week Shawn plans to keep it simple by telling the team to have fun and that whatever happens, happens.

Adding that having fun is what truly matters.

The team has already been playing great and Shawn and the L.Y. Cairns / Strathcona squad is making sure to soak it all in.

“I have been teaching at [L.Y. Cairns] for a long, long time and this is the first time anything this big has happened to us so it’s a pretty cool opportunity for our kids and something that they’ll remember forever,” Shawn said.

UPDATE: LYC / SCONA Are Bringing home the gold in Unified Basketball, congratulations! 

Unified Sports was introduced in Alberta in partnership with the Alberta Schools’ Athletic Association (ASAA) and with more schools getting involved it continues to grow every year.

For more information on Unified events or if your school is interested in hosting a Unified event, check out our Unified Sports page.

Follow the coverage of the last two days of the 2019 Youth Games on social media by following Special Olympics Alberta, ASAA, or the Special Olympics Ontario Invitational Youth Games on Twitter.

For all schedules, results, and information go to https://youthgames2019.com/.