Chip Woods, Executive Director at St. Peter’s Adult Learning Center in Baltimore, has been serving individuals with intellectual disabilities at St. Peter’s for the last 11 years. The mission of the Center is to empower adults with developmental disabilities to be contributing members of society through work training and job placement. Chip takes a holistic approach to the continued development of these individuals which over the last six years has included forming teams to play in a Special Olympics Baltimore City Unified Basketball league hosted by the Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks (BCRP) at Farring Bay Brook Recreational Center in Curtis Bay. Thanks to the commitment and leadership of Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist and BCRP Recreation Program Assistant, Robert Sigonor, the league runs every Wednesday night for six weeks starting in mid-February with six Unified teams eager to play their weekly game as part of a triple header.
Unified sports combines Special Olympics athletes with their non-Special Olympics peers of similar ability to form teams for competitive play. In Basketball the on-court composition of three Special Olympics athletes and two non-Special Olympics teammates provides a valuable and fun experience for all team members. Chip expressed pride in the value of the program and noted that the number of players recruited to play doubled from eight players last year to 16 for this year’s league.
Chip also points out that in order to participate as part of the St. Peter’s contingent each individual must be employed. So there is motivation to focus on job training and preparation in order to be employed. For those who have jobs and want to play in the league, St. Peter’s provides transportation to and from each game along with post-game food which all the players enjoy. This year one parent of a client played in the league and several parents and caregivers attended the games to cheer with pride for their athletes. Chip uses the league in a meaningful way to extend the St. Peter’s mission as playing in the league provides life lessons of team work, accountability and commitment all of which contribute to making the basketball players better employees.
The league also has a transformative impact on the unified teammates, exemplified in numerous ways including one Unified teammate who now helps at St. Peter’s by serving on the Quality Assurance Committee which is dedicated to improving the employee outcome for clients. Katie Shannon, who was instrumental in starting the league in 2009 has played as a unified teammate each year and she is quick to point out, “The energy and excitement in the gym every Wednesday night is amazing.” More poignantly she noted, “It’s great to see new faces every year but it’s awesome to see the same athletes come back year after year and see how they have improved and grown as individuals.”
The most compelling testimony for the league’s value comes when the season ends and the players ask Chip, “When are we going to play again?”
Editor’s Note: The question by the players, “When are going to play again?” has prompted SOMD staff to explore options for hosting a summer league so that the players don’t have to wait until next February to enjoy their coveted league play.