Campus Recreation’s Unified Basketball League builds bridges with community

Jordan Specht
March 30, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Partnering with the local Special Olympics Centre County Chapter, Campus Recreation, a unit of Penn State Student Affairs, built the Unified Basketball league to further connect with the local community and provide amazing opportunities to folks with disabilities.

As a coordinator within Penn State’s Campus Recreation’s Competitive Sports program and assistant coach of the Unified Basketball League, Diane Baldwin has made it part of her mission as a Penn State employee to grow and develop Campus Recreation’s programs to be more inclusive and accessible for all. Baldwin’s quest is in lock step with Campus Recreation’s core values of inclusivity and collaboration.

Unified Sports join people with and without intellectual disabilities together. It is inspired by the principal of training together and playing together to create friendship, understanding, and a sense of belonging.

Baldwin has a natural love for Special Olympics and the sport of basketball as a whole. “There was a push in Special Olympics that created Unified Sports. I have a daughter who is a Special Olympics athlete and decided that our recreation program needed to include people with disabilities as well,” Baldwin said. “I was very interested in the Special Olympics Unified Program and with the help from the Campus Recreation and the University, we launched our Unified Basketball League.”

The Special Olympics Club, a registered student organization through the Office of Student Activities at Penn State, was organized as an extension of Unified Sports. This club is a way for anyone who would like to volunteer with Special Olympics to come together and learn more about opportunities to become involved in activities.

The Unified Basketball League is set up just like any other intramural (IM) sport within Campus Recreation. There are four teams in total (15 athletes) that play full-court basketball games for 40 minutes. The teams play a total of four games consisting of three regular games and one or two tournament games. Penn State’s Intramural Sports Program offers a variety of team and individual sports competitions designed to meet the social and competitive needs of students and Campus Recreation members at the University Park Campus.

Unified Partners are Penn State students who help the Unified Basketball League in more ways than one. Teams are comprised of equal numbers of partners and athletes consisting of two to three athletes on the floor with two to three partners. The partner’s role is to engage the athletes during the game and help develop their skills.

“We’ve seen our athletes grow as basketball players and adults. To see their skills grow because they have student partners helping, teaching and guiding them is pretty incredible experience. The student partners gain leadership, friendships and grow as an individual. I truly believe this is something totally different than any other program, we’re creating a way to provide incredible feeling of completeness from our athletes,” Baldwin said.

Emeeline Mroczko, competitive sports student manager, is a Unified Partner for the league. She said her favorite part about the Unified Basketball League is the relationships that are formed every week on the court.

“Not only do you get to be active in such a fun way, you never stop smiling the entire time you’re there. The athletes we get the privilege of playing next to are some of the most amazing, funniest and happiest people I have ever met, and it’s always the highlight of my week to see them,” Mroczko said.

With inclusivity being one of Campus Recreation’s core values, Mroczko explains how it aligns with the Penn State culture, “Penn State is famous for our ‘WE ARE’ chant, showing how every Nittany Lion is equal and that we stand together as one complete unit. By having programs like this and engaging more of the student body and community, we are just continually working on upholding the true meaning behind the ‘WE ARE’ chant.”

Anyone can become a Unified Partner. If students are interested in joining the program, they can contact Baldwin at dls125@psu.edu.

Last Updated April 07, 2020