Huntsville's Unified program returns with bigger goals

Feb. 4—HUNTSVILLE — After winning the inaugural Unified State title last season, Huntsville's Unified basketball team is back on the court.

While the hopes and dreams of repeating are there, as they would for most teams, there is something more that lies underneath rather than repeating as a state champion.

"We haven't really even talked about it," Unified head coach and director of WCSO Jason Elliott said. "Some of the kids have talked about 'running it back.' The thought is there but I'm not going to do anything different. My job isn't going to be any different. My job is to teach these kids the game of basketball and the game of life. We have kids that sometimes don't understand when they get fouled and take it personally. You can see they didn't accept that but that's my job to teach them that it is going to happen and it's a part of the game."

One thing that brings Unified basketball together is the inclusion of all kids that attend Huntsville High School. This provides extra opportunities for people to form bonds on the court while giving them a chance to help on the court.

Huntsville's Unified team played its first game on Monday against Brenham, and it was showcased there. The Hornets would seek assistance from coaching as well as the partners in the program to help guide athletes on the court, whether something as simple as putting their arms up to which side of the court was their own.

"What I like to see is our partners are teaching that to them at the same time," Elliott said. "Really they are coaches on the floor and it's good stuff."

That showed during the Monday night game across the board.

Basketball has been a great opportunity for these relationships to grow as well. Elliott teaches the adaptive physical education program and it is a constant battle getting the members off the court, even with a program they have to follow.

It has taken everybody by storm and even when they aren't in season, Elliott is asked when they are going to start evening practices and get to put their talents to work.

"It's every day," Elliott said. "They have P.E. every day and that's what they do. They get mad at me when we do something besides basketball. There are other things we have to do but they just want to play basketball every day, they love the game. They talk about it all the time. We are building this program and we have young kids."

As the program continues to build, the Hornets have to find partners to help fill the rosters for this team. And with just one person with experience playing Unified, they still had a few roster spots to fill up. But it's not just putting a person in the spot, it's building a roster that is compatible with the play style.

However, that takes a special bond to find and doesn't happen. Elliott takes a look at all the seniors and how they will work with the athletes before they hit the court. There were kids coming from all over the school looking for a chance to be a part of this team.

"It's always fun and interesting to come back from a year like that because you want as many kids to come back," Elliott said. "I look for seniors that have basketball experience and I had to find five or six more. To my surprise, I had kids coming out of the woodwork to do it. We found a good crew and have a good group of kids that our athletes look up to. That is what we are looking for."

Elliott uses this program as a teaching program for everybody and shows that every person has some sort of disability, whether it is physical or not.

And in doing that, he wants to help turn everybody's weaknesses into strengths that will not only help them tomorrow but for the rest of their lives.

"I want them to understand that all of us have disabilities," Elliott said. "I don't care who you are, you have some type of disability. All of us have the strength and we find out what are strengths and we find out what our disabilities are and we work to turn those disabilities into strengths. When those kids come together they work together."

As far as running things back and getting a second consecutive title, Elliott has bigger plans for everybody that takes part in Unified. He wants everybody to take away something more that will help prepare them for something later in life.

Elliott's goal is to just make each and every kid that steps on the court a better person for later in their life and that's the approach he takes into every sport.

"I want those kids to look back on this experience as successful and help them prepare for their life outside of that. That has been my take on every sport. I want my kids that I coach to, later on, be good role models and you learn those things through what we do."

The Unified program will now look ahead to the area tournament which is the first step in making it back to the state title game. The event will take place on Feb.13 at Dueitt Middle in Spring. The Hornets will play against Port Neches Grove before taking on either Brenham or New Caney for the right to go to regionals.