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Silver Creek's Unified basketball team faces Longmont Police Department in rivalry

“This is our year,” boasted Officer Douglas.

Students participating in the unified basketball program at Silver Creek High School have a long-time rivalry with the Longmont Police Department. One they hope to continue far into the future.

Adopting the idea from a teacher at Mead High School, seniors in Silver Creek High’s Leadership Academy, or SCLA, began a unified sports program at their school. The idea is to ensure each student has an opportunity to experience all aspects of the high school experience, including participation in sports.

Silver Creek’s program includes bowling, track and field and basketball. This year it is run by two seniors, Ashley Gaccetta and Mia VanLeeuwen. 

“We have a history of supporting unified sports at Silver Creek. It’s a big part of our culture here,” said SCLA’s Program Director Carrie Adams. “Having two people who are so passionate about making sure their (unified athletes) experience is really positive and energetic for the kids … they just really hit it out of the park this year … it really built a community of inclusion.” 

Gaccetta and VanLeeuwen are good friends, they said, who have participated in sports together for years. Gaccetta said the unified sports program spoke to her as the perfect capstone project because her twin sister is a special education student. VanLeeuwen grew up forming a close bond with Gaccetta’s sister as well as being the daughter of a special education teacher which drew her attention to the program.

The nine-player roster includes Bailey Gaccetta #20, Kim Garcia #37, Beckham Wright #4, Josh Jones #8, Brenna O’Conner #9, Ethan Newby #22, Bryan Newby #27, Hope Palmquist #19 and Cristal Navarro #1. 

Throughout the year the team played other unified teams within the St. Vrain Valley District and has so far remained undefeated. 

The final non-tournament game of the season will be against the Longmont Police Department, including the school’s resource officer, Ryan Douglas. 

Douglas has played in this match-up since he began working at Silver Creek four years ago. Each year he seeks out the best and most willing officers and staff in the department to try to pull out the win. His efforts have failed the last four years as the basketball team has defeated the officers each year.

“This is our year,” boasted Officer Douglas, hoping his words would finally ring true. However, unified team members have reminded the SRO several times this week that he and his buddies “are going down,” Douglas said as he smiled at the friendly competitiveness the team displays all year.

For Douglas, this is more than a basketball game, it is an in with students who might need his help in the future. It is an opportunity for him to build relationships that may extend beyond the school building, he said. 

Douglas said there have been times when students have had encounters with police officers outside of school and he has been able to connect with them through the bonds he has built and help them resolve the issue in the best way possible. 

During the regular season, Gaccetta and VanLeeuwen said the team members focus on supporting each other and the other team. Silver Creek’s team might rebound the ball, however, the rebounder will continue to hand the ball back to the shooter until that person scores. And each team member gets equal amounts of time on the court. 

“The sportsmanship is amazing,” Douglas said. “When one of their students makes it (a basket) their entire team celebrates. There’s not the jealousy or showboating. It is a team sport and a team celebration for every basket.” 

“It’s crazy to think about the teamwork and the sportsmanship that they have,” Gaccetta said. “Everybody is out there just for everyone to succeed. So it’s a really heartwarming thing to watch.”

During a game there are three athletes and two mentors on the court. The mentors are there to teach the athletes the rules of basketball while promoting good sportsmanship and teamwork, VanLeeuwen said, adding “It’s really cool to see the transformations.”

Those transformations don’t just happen to the players, Gaccetta said. She and VanLeeuwen have experienced a change of their own. 

As athletes themselves, the duo have learned the true meaning of teamwork on and off the court. “They have taught us generosity, and not taking things for granted and patience and the ability to just love everyone and to be kind to everyone and how it can impact other people’s lives because we have no idea how everyone is feeling or their struggles,” VanLeeuwen said.

The Silver Creek Unified Basketball team will face off against the Longmont Police Department on Feb. 23 at 3 p.m. at Silver Creek High School. The public is encouraged to attend. 

Although the officers look to change history, it is more important to them, according to Douglas, to allow these athletes a place where they can just be themselves. 

“They don’t fill out a gym the way a boys team would but to be able to have that attention from other people and for them to be there to say ‘Hey, I see you. This is awesome.’ is just fantastic,” Ganccetta said.