It happened again!
The Warren Athletic Department witnessed the pure, unadulterated joy that comes from sport at its finest.
This past Friday (Dec. 6), the Warren Unified Basketball Team took the court to tip-off against their crosstown rivals, the Downey Vikings. On court that day, the rivalry was merely the subtext because the headline was the inclusion revolution that occurred within the gym.
Every athlete proudly donned his/her jersey, representing their respective schools in a grander context. They were officially a part of something bigger than themselves. They burst through the gym doors for the pregame line-ups, beaming with pride. As their names were announced, they stepped out in front of a packed crowd that was teeming with excitement. They waved to the crowd and celebrated as their peers roared with unbridled enthusiasm. They were showered with applause and acceptance. This was their moment!
Diego Salazar performed the national anthem with power and gusto, as he has so many times before. The drumline energized the crowd with a few upbeat performances. And then the teams took center court for tip-off. Warren scored first with a nice jumper from just inside the key. For those in the gym, it was not the 2-0 lead that elicited the goosebumps; rather, it was the palpable excitement from the crowd as peers responded with ballistic enthusiasm for the student with special needs who had just knocked down his first jumper. It was watching Jahvy Medearis, a Varsity basketball player who recently signed a National Letter of Intent to California State University, Bakersfield, jump out of his seat with uncontrollable passion as he celebrated one of his Teen Connection friends knocking down the first shot of the game. This was inclusion at its finest. This was also sport at its finest.
The game continued in back-and-forth fashion, with both teams exchanging buckets and keeping it close throughout. These two teams had met previously, with Downey besting Warren in a decisive victory; however, this game proved to be much better matched. The Bears showed tremendous improvement and incredible heart, as they battled to redeem their previous loss.
During halftime, the Unified Cheer team performed. They nailed a two-minute performance replete with tumbling and stunts. Not only was their pride undeniable, but the elation of the Varsity cheerleaders in the stands was tangible as they watched their friends successfully stick their performance.
The game continued with both teams going on small runs and fighting back to keep the contest close. The crowd never lost its spirit, celebrating every basket, bemoaning every questionable call, and checking every aggressive play. It came down to the wire when the final basket was waved off, which forced the teams into a two-minute overtime. Coaches made adjustments to their lineups and offered a few final words of wisdom before the game resumed action. The fans were on their feet. The coaches were off the bench. The announcer could not sit still. The teachers and administrators lined the baselines, eagerly shouting advice and encouragement. With less than :02 on the clock, Daniel Martinez knocked down the buzzer-beater to secure the victory for the Bears. As his teammates and coaches hoisted him onto their shoulders, this was inclusion at its finest. This was sport at its finest.
One team celebrated the sweet success of victory; another team suffered the agonizing pangs of defeat. This is true for sport. But what is also true for sport is that athletes exceeded what they initially thought possible. Athletes enjoyed the spoils of hard work, dedication, sacrifice and desire. Athletes shared the camaraderie that can only be captured through teammates who hustle together, sacrifice together, sweat together, suffer together, and celebrate together. Athletes built a community in which everyone belongs. For one game, everyone came together in the pursuit of victory with honor, integrity, and inclusion in their hearts. That’s a win greater than any score on the scoreboard because that was inclusion at its finest; that was sport at its finest.