PROVIDENCE — Westerly High's unified basketball team capped another unbeaten season with its second straight Division 3 championship Sunday at La Salle Academy.
The Bulldogs defeated East Providence, 26-22, in the title game for the second straight season. It was a successful year in so many ways.
Unified basketball features students with developmental disabilities (athletes) and those without (partners).
Two partners and three athletes play. Athletes are allowed to shoot while partners primarily rebound, dribble and pass. Athletes with limited athletic ability are allowed unlimited time to shoot.
Antwone Brown led Westerly with 12 points, 10 of them in the second half.
"I enjoy every single moment of it, just seeing the kids and the smiles on their faces," Brown said. "It just brings a light to my day. It's very fun.
"I've learned how to cope with kids. When we learn their strengths, we get them in and have them achieve their goals. You can't do a better sport than unified sports."
For his senior project, Brown organized a unified field day with athletes from Chariho.
Brown was the only Westerly player with more than two points. Brianna Falco, Kiera Dowding, Pierce Abosso, Shelby Lewis, John Vigue, Ray Hill and Nathaniel Guilmette also scored two points each.
Hill also came up with a number of rebounds and shared ball-handling duties with Brown and partner A.J. Rodriguez. Dowding also forced a number of steals with her defense.
Westerly scored the first six points of the game and led 10-6 at the half.
East Providence, which was led in scoring by Connor Pedini with eight points, tied the scored at 16 with six minutes remaining.
But two baskets by Brown and another by Hill, off a feed from Brown, put the Bulldogs ahead, 22-16 with 4:29 left.
Rodriguez, a senior, has been part of the Unified program for four years.
"I personally started doing it because my little brother has special needs. He's in elementary school, but I hope one day he can play here," Rodriguez said.
"I put my heart and sweat into it. I'm so glad to see them come out on top. I do the things they can't do and get open shots for them. It's amazing, there is no better feeling."
John Mathews, a job coach for students ages 18-12 at the high school, coaches the team. He said the program, which is part of Special Olympics Rhode Island, has many benefits.
"This really helps them. When they see their partners in school, they sit with them and have lunch. They become part of the school function when they are on a team," Mathews said. "The team atmosphere goes a long way in the school and out of the school. It works."
Mathews said he tries to get every player a shot at the basket at least two or three times a game.
"We've been very fortunate to win the championship the last two years," Mathews said. "We have two very good athletes [Brown and Hill]."
Other members of the team are athletes Jordan Ballata, William Durfee, Luke Fallon, Peter Henry, Alex Morgan, Gabriel Richter, J.P. Sergi, Christopher Chappell and Mitchell Gomes.
Other partners are Breonna Brown, Keisha Whitmeyer, Michael Goldberg, Rosemarie Marbella and Emily Gauvin.
The Division 3 game was one of six contests played at La Salle on Sunday.