Woodland High School hosts first unified basketball game during student assembly


Woodland High School held its first unified basketball game last month, which, in turn, promoted inclusivity between special education students and the entire student body.

The game was held during a schoolwide assembly, featuring students from both the special education (SPED) and general education (GenEd) programs, as well as staff members who served as referees.

“The Unified Basketball game was more than just a sports event; it was a celebration of the unique talents and abilities of every student,” Woodland High School Diverse Support Program (DSP) teacher Alex Onslow said in a Woodland Public Schools news release. “By bringing together students from different backgrounds and abilities, the game promoted a sense of unity and understanding among the school community.”

Students and teachers alike enjoyed the event and shared their enthusiasm.

“As part of the Special Olympics, I’ve seen dozens, if not hundreds, of unified sports games across the state, and the crowd and enthusiasm in Woodland was the best I’ve seen at any event,” DSP staff member Ryan Balara said in the release.

Jeff Bockert, a school counselor, agreed with Balara.

“This was quite possibly the best assembly I’ve seen in 20 years of working in education,” Bockert said in the release.

The event was designed to bring together students from the special ed program and their high school peers to create a spirit of sportsmanship and unity, the release stated. For students in general education, the activities help foster respect and empathy. Catherine Pulliam, a Woodland High School counselor and advocate for inclusion, came up with the idea after watching a video showcasing a similar unified basketball game at her uncle’s school.

“The concept immediately resonated with me and ignited a spark of inspiration,” she said in the release. “I wondered, ‘Could we create something similar here?’ The concept of a unified basketball game transcends mere sport; it symbolizes equality, diversity and unity.”

The same day she watched the video, Pulliam started investigating how to introduce a similar event in Woodland. Pulliam sought out Onslow about her idea and from there, Pulliam and Onslow turned to Shari Conditt, one of the high school’s government teachers who is experienced in event planning, to discuss logistics, the release stated.

Despite challenges, which included a past lack of interest and limited participation, Pulliam remained undeterred.

All DSP students were offered the opportunity to participate. Some eagerly embraced it while others hesitated, the release stated. Students who participated in the school’s Unified Physical Education class — where students without disabilities organize and participate in PE activities with students who have disabilities — were given priority.

“Word of mouth also played a role,” Pulliam said in the release. “This drew in volunteers who wanted to be part of this groundbreaking event.”

“Catherine’s enthusiasm was contagious,” Onslow added in the release. “Catherine flooded the school with commercials, posters and flyers announcing the upcoming unified basketball game.”

Bryana Steck, the school’s band teacher, remarked how some of her students were impacted by witnessing the schoolwide support for the game.

“This was the most wholesome, fun assembly that we have participated in this year, if not ever,” she said, in the release. “Several of my students actually became pretty emotional as we watched the entire school support our Unified Basketball team.”

Woodland High School’s Unified PE course isn’t the only avenue for inclusion. Students in DSP also deliver weekly newspapers, participate in GenEd classrooms, recycle and actively engage in courses where students learn the importance of inclusion and respect, the release stated.

Onslow and her DSP team plan to bring Unified Soccer to Woodland High School in the fall of 2024, marking the school’s first-ever outdoor assembly, the release stated.

Onslow and her team also hope to organize and facilitate the school’s first special education prom, which would also include neighboring school districts.