NIAGARA FALLS — The power of sport is utterly amazing.
Sometimes in the sports world, we get too caught up in the little things. The emphasis on stats, lifting up the winners of games and piling on to the losers. Monday night, what took part in the Niagara Falls High School Wolvarena was far more important than any stat ever recorded.
Niagara Falls' unified basketball team came out with the victory over visiting Starpoint by a score of 37-33. The score was a mere novelty though, with the athletes getting an experience to play a big game in a high-energy environment.
The Wolvarena was just about as packed as a Tuesday night Niagara Frontier League game during the winter. A spirited crowd brought a different factor to the table and helped lift the Falls with chants and signs in support of its players.
Former NF boys basketball head coach Sal Constantino has been able to work with the unified athletes this spring. For him, he is not so much thinking about his tenure as a head coach, but rather how he can help impact this group of kids now.
"I kind of don't even look back to what was; I look out here and you see our athletes when they score how happy they are," Constantino said. "I can't tell you how much respect I have for the partners, our other kids, how good they are with the athletes. It's really a great thing to be a part of."
And much of the high school had some part in the event, providing a big-league environment for the players.
"Personally, I'm really proud of what our school community is," Constantino said. "....When they do it, they do it big. We have a slogan, 'We're all Wolverines.'"
Adding to that environment were the unified cheerleaders and NF's renowned band. One of the volunteers with the group Joe Giarrizzo, an administrator for school business services with the district.
Giarrizzo has been involved with the NFHS band since it began playing at the boys basketball games in the 2001-02 season. Having performed at high levels like in Glens Falls for state championship games, against nationally ranked programs like Oak Hill Academy, or even last season in Binghamton during the state semifinals, no environment seems as meaningful to Giarrizzo as the one provided for the unified games.
"It's great. ... I see the best of what our students can do," Giarrizzo said. "I see the best in our athletic students. I see the best in our band students, our cheer students. It's all a part of that student experience. We try to bring that environment in a positive way. We saw tonight. ... the kids hooting and hollering and having fun. We have fun no matter where we go. The team appreciates what we do. And we just try to give them that experience, because why not?"
The future of unified sports is expanding all throughout Western New York, with many programs adding more teams and new sports. Constantino said he hopes even more athletes are given opportunities through other unified sports.
"Whatever sports we feel will fit the athletes, I think it's great to move it on because the kids enjoy it," he said. "They really look forward to the day. You can see, if you look at all the students that are here, how supportive they are of everybody. I really think it just brings our school together."