It’s a long-lost brotherhood, according to Andy MacIntosh.
The St. Rita of Cascia High School Service and Academic Support Coordinator is one of the coaches of the Southside Buckets. He said he could not be prouder of the Unified team.
The Southside Buckets is a Unified team composed of Special Olympics Illinois athletes from Southside Occupational Academy High School and students without disabilities from St. Rita, a Catholic college preparatory school located in Chicago’s southwest side.
“They have been so accepting,” Andy said. “This whole program is about inclusion. They’re just like our students. Same hopes and dreams. Our players treat them as if they don’t have disabilities, they treat them like long lost brothers.”
Special Olympics Illinois Unified Champion Schools (UCS) aims to develop inclusive learning and social environments for all students, both with and without intellectual disabilities. For Andy, the effects of inclusion on this team have been remarkable. “We were the first Unified team in Chicago,” said Andy. “In fact, really, out of all the programs I’ve been involved in this has been the most rewarding and fulfilling in what it does in terms of inclusion.”
The players on the Southside Buckets team could not agree more.
Kevin Gaughan, 17, St. Rita senior, said he always has a good time playing Unified. “I’d tell other people to join this, if they don’t know,” Kevin said. “It's fun to play with people from a different background than you.”
Donzell Marshall, 18, an athlete from Southside Occupational Academy, agreed. “I like having fun with my friends,” Donzell said. “I like getting on the court with everyone.”
Donzell was also the U.S. Ambassador for Special Olympics Illinois for four years. He said he has seen a lot of changes in himself and his teammates since playing Unified. “Lots of new friends,” he smiled. “It’s great showing skills you have from the southside.”
For Jahani Wood, 19, an athlete from Southside Occupational Academy, Unified is paving a new path forward. “The change is the team,” Jahani said. “It’s fun.”
St. Rita player Nick Antonowcz, 17, added that he has seen the comradery of the team off the court as well. “We come together, not just in games, but there’s a bond outside of basketball as well.” Nick continued, “It’s fun to watch. It’s fun to see the smiles on everyone’s faces.”
The fun will continue as the Southside Buckets compete against seven other teams from across the state at the 2023 IHSA Unified State Basketball tournament this Friday, March 10 and Saturday, March 11 at the University of Illinois’ Activities and Recreation Center (ARC) in Urbana-Champaign.
The tournament will kick off with Opening Ceremony on Friday at 12:30 PM, followed by competition from 1:00 PM to approximately 3:30 PM. Saturday competition will begin at 8:30 AM and run through about 11:30 AM. View the Division I bracket here and the Division II bracket here.
This year’s IHSA Unified State Basketball title contenders are Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School (BBCHS), East St. Louis Sr. High School, Limestone Community High School, Peotone High School, Pontiac High School, Southside Occupational Academy High School in conjunction with St. Rita of Cascia High School, Southside Occupational Academy Hub in conjunction with De La Salle Institute, and Vernon Hills High School.
Ask any of the players of the Southside Buckets team and they will say they are ready.
“We’re going to have fun,” Nick said. “We’re going to win the championship.”