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Forest Grove's Unified team defeats West Albany for the OSAA's inaugural state championship

NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: WADE EVANSON - Forest Grove's Logan Hitchcock (5) goes up to block a shot while his teammate Juan Gomez Gutierrez (1) helps out. It's not often you can say this, but there was a game Saturday, March 11 at Forest Grove High School, and there were no losers.

The OSAA held their first annual Unified basketball championship at Forest Grove High School in conjunction with the OSAA 4A State Basketball Championships, and the Forest Grove Black Knights prevailed over West Albany, 35-30.

"We're proud of our team and proud of our program for helping this happen," said the Black Knights' head coach Kari Bloomquist.

Forest Grove has been part of Unified for 10 years. The Unified basketball program is part of Unified Sports, which is a Special Olympics program designed to bring people together…and much more.

Special Olympics is dedicated to promoting social inclusion through shared sports training and competition experiences. Unified Sports joins people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team. It was inspired by a simple principle: training together and playing together is a quick path to friendship and understanding.

NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: WADE EVANSON - Forest Grove's Black Knights won the Unified State Basketball Championship and are pictured here: Back Row: Coach Kari Bloomquist, Jerson Miranda, Josh Jackson, Hunter Steele, Kian Purvis, Harrison Dotson, Ryan Baxter, Coach John Meyer 
Front Row: Alex Hitchcock, Ray Morrow, Paco Flores, Juan Gomez-Gutierrez, Caleb McGuire, Logan Hitchcock
In Unified Sports, teams are made up of people of similar age and ability. In basketball, there are rules that govern the ratio of people with and without intellectual disabilities on the court at the same time. You're allowed two "partners" (those without disabilities) with three athletes (those with disabilities) on the court simultaneously. The partners are primarily there to facilitate the action, but at the highest level of competition, like in Saturday's game, the "facilitators" aren't quite as necessary.

"As you could tell, we had a pretty high level of athlete out there today," a smiling Bloomquist said.

Jill Hertel runs the program at Forest Grove, and according to Bloomquist does a great job of recruiting players and getting kids involved.

The Dark Knights have 12 players on their roster and qualified for the state tournament via a regional tournament last week, from which the top two teams advanced.

There was a nice turnout for the game, and one couldn't help but enjoy the action.

"There's just a lot of joy out there," said Chuck Nyquist, a spectator who stayed following the Banks game which was played prior. "How could you not get behind that?"

The following kids were part of the victorious Forest Grove Black Knights:

Kian Purvis

Juan Gomez-Gutierrez

Caleb McGuire

Ray Morrow

Josh Jackson

Ryan Baxter

Harrison Dotson

Paco Flores

Hunter Steele

Alex Hitchcock

Logan Hitchcock

Jerson Miranda

Coaches: Kari Bloomquist, John Meyer

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