SHIRLEY — The Samoset Middle School Unified Basketball team had reason to celebrate last Tuesday.
The Wildcats put the finishing touches on a remarkable spring season with a bit of fun.
Samoset teamed up with three other Central Mass. schools to form a season-ending jamboree at Ayer-Shirley Regional Middle School. Joining Samoset on Tuesday were the host Panthers along with a pair of middle schools from Shrewsbury in Oak Middle School and Sherwood Middle School.
Currently, Samoset is the only Leominster middle school to field a team in the statewide program. Samoset has close to 20 players in the program at present and is co-coached by Leominster public school physical education teacher Bob Robuccio and Adaptive Physical Education instructor Peter Charpentier. Both coaches raved about their experience being a part of the school’s unified program.
“I have been coaching for a long time and I can truly say that this is the most rewarding experience I have ever had,” said Robuccio, who is also the varsity baseball coach at Lunenburg High School. “It’s been amazing.”
“The support from the Samoset community has been great, from our principal right on down, it’s been impressive,” said Charpentier. “The entire program has been a huge success. We watched the Unified program at the high school level in Leominster and to be able to get it here at the middle school level has been absolutely amazing. The kids have had a ball.”
The Wildcats played a three-game schedule that concluded with Tuesday’s jamboree.
It wasn’t just the coaches who had all the fun, Gloryanne Rivera is an eighth grader at Samoset and she couldn’t help but share her excitement to be a part of the Leominster team and the Unified Basketball program.
“We are having a lot of fun. I wanted to do this for the first time this year and I’m glad I did because it’s been awesome,” said Rivera. “This is my first time playing on a team but I’ve been playing basketball in the gym for a long time.”
The middle school Unified Basketball program was launched two years ago in 2020. Samoset was one of the 13 pilot schools to participate, but the COVID-19 pandemic stopped the season just before its first game. Since then, the program has ballooned to 26 schools across the Commonwealth.
“We got the middle school program up and going two years ago. We piloted with 13 schools,” said Unified Sports Manager for Special Olympics Massachusetts Kathleen Lutz. “It’s our goal, our intention to try and have a program at age level. It’s a long-term goal of ours to have this at the high school, middle and elementary school level.”
Samoset principal Matt Steinberg was in attendance on Tuesday to support the student athletes not just from his school, but the others as well.
“I think to say that our hearts get full with this is an understatement. Our school has really embraced this program and we had a number of kids that were willing to help out and volunteer to be partners for the Unified athletes,” said Steinberg. “The kids were on the bus two years ago when I got a phone call from our superintendent that someone in our school had been exposed and we had to turn the bus around. The kids were crushed, so we’ve been waiting for this for two years.”