BERLIN, New Hampshire (NEWS CENTER) -- The Berlin Unified Basketball team finally madetheir debut in front of their hometown fans on Thursday. The team's home opener a couple weeks ago was delayed because of bad weather.

Hundreds of people packed the gymnasium to watch the kids battle it out against their rivals from Kennett High School.

"Everyone was anxious for the game, and the whole school was ready for it," said Richard Dragon."I was surprised at the size of the crowd, everyone was here. It was just great."

This is the first year Berlin has had a unified basketball team, which puts kids with developmental disabilities on the same court as their peers.

"Even though our children may be different, they're more alike than they are different," stated proud parent, Paula Poirier. "They are the team,and their peers are helping them, instead of them trying to integrate into a regular sport, it is their sport. This is all about our children, and then their peers are coming in and taking that step, and hats off to the peers for giving their time and just making it so much fun for them."

Each team member was introduced to the crowd, and received a loud round of applause. The niceties didn't stop there, as the crowd roared in approval of every play made by both teams.

At one point, a player from Berlin was knocked to the floor, and before play could be stopped, a Kennett player was already helping him back up in an amazing display of sportsmanship.

"That's the main reason why we play sports, to have fun, and it is a good environment," explained Craig Melanson, Berlin's director of athletics.

"All of the student body gets to be part of this, and really learn from our children about what it means to be unified in life and in sports," said Poirier.

Her son, Alex, is a freshman on the team. While his wheelchair is not allowed on the court during play, he is able to participate by throwing the ball inbound to his teammates.

"This has been an amazing experience for him, because he has been following high school sports for many years through his cousins, so he absolutely loves it," she said. "Now to have his own jersey and be part of the team has been a really, really wonderful experience for him and for all of us."

The score remained close throughout the contest, with Kennett avenging a loss earlier in the season with a two point victory.

The loss didn't seem to faze many of the players, who shook hands and changed clothes before sitting down to a meal together.

"We both played hard," said Dragon. "The scoreboard doesn't really matter right now, it is just a great thing out here."

Read or Share this story: