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Dunkirk Unified rings in championship

Submitted Photos The Dunkirk Unified basketball team celebrated their Unified championship on Thursday, after defeating Williamsville North 24-22 on Thursday in West Seneca.

The Dunkirk Marauders have backed up their Unified Champion School banner with another championship to go with it.

Following a third straight Unified Bowling Championship earlier this year, the Dunkirk Marauders Unified basketball team took care of business on the basketball court on Thursday to claim a championship of its own.

“It feels good. It feels excellent,” said Mekiah Sedlacek, a multi-sport Unified and Special Olympics athlete.

Sedlacek has won four championships as a Unified athlete – three straight in bowling, and now in basketball, as well. “It feels great to be a part of everything,” he said.

Dunkirk Unified Basketball Coach Josh Case said, “It was honestly amazing just watching the kids all season. These kids really formed a family and they all look out for each other. They all were there for each other all the time. To see all that chemistry and all that positivity come together and watch them win at the end was truly amazing. It was awesome to be a part of.”

Members of the Dunkirk Unified basketball team celebrated their Unified championship on Thursday by ringing the bell outside the football field at Dunkirk High School.

Dunkirk won 24-22 on Thursday over Williamsville North, capped off by a steal by Elias Gutierrez in the final seconds to hang on for the victory.

“Being able to make a defensive play to win the game was probably one of the best feelings I’ve ever had in any sport I’ve played,” Gutierrez said. “It felt amazing.”

“That game was crazy,” said Franyel Amparo, a first-year player on the Unified basketball team. “It was everything.”

Amparo described the emotions of the moment when the team claimed the championship. He was happier for his teammates and partners through the program than he was for himself. “I felt happy, man, because I wanted to win all this just for them. It’s not about me, it’s about them. I wanted to get that for them,” Amparo said.

The Unified basketball team returned to support throughout the halls of Dunkirk High School. “The whole student body was genuinely cheering. For me to be part of that with them, to see what they did, that was amazing. It was awesome,” Case said.

The team then went outside to participate in a Dunkirk tradition of ringing the bell at the entrance to the football field.

“That felt awesome. Being able to have these kids ring the bell, it’s a different feeling for them,” Gutierrez said. “… Seeing these kids smile when we win a game, when they get so excited, it feels nice. That’s how I am when I win a game in football or basketball, but seeing these kids get excited is a different kind of feeling.”

“It puts a smile on your face. It’s all about the team,” Amparo added. “… It brings something to your heart that you can’t even explain. It’s just joy, it makes you happy.”

As a senior, Gutierrez persuaded Amparo to join the Unified basketball team with him. Gutierrez was a varsity football and basketball player this year, and took a lesson he learned from varsity basketball coach Sixto Rosario into his experience with the Unified team.

“It’s bigger than basketball,” Gutierrez said. “You’ve got to look at the bigger picture when you do things. … I did it because I wanted to help these kids out, and it was one of the best feelings ever. I would suggest for anybody in the future that hears about Unified to join, because you will never regret it.”

K’Vion Tell, a starter on the Dunkirk varsity basketball team, joined the program this year, as well. As an underclassman, Tell plans to return to the program next year.

“It’s definitely something I’m going to stick to, for sure,” Tell said. “It was really fun, definitely something that I want to continue doing.”

Earlier this year, prior to a varsity boys basketball game between Dunkirk and Fredonia, Dunkirk’s Unified Sports program received a banner to give the District its well-deserved recognition from Special Olympics of New York as a National Unified Champion School. Dunkirk is one of only two schools in Chautauqua County – along with Silver Creek – to be recognized as a National Unified Champion School, a distinction given to districts that show a commitment to fostering Unified sports throughout the school community.

“It was a really good feeling, especially to know that I could help out people in my community,” Tell said of being on the team.

Through Unified sports at Dunkirk, club advisors Jill Domenico and Megan Larivey have fostered an environment that integrates students with different abilities through sports and beyond.

A week prior to the championship game, the district held a parade through the streets of Dunkirk to celebrate Special Olympics, from the High School to the Intermediate School, before returning to compete in its own Special Olympics games. The Dunkirk Police Department escorted the students through the streets and Dunkirk Mayor Kate Wdowiasz visited Dunkirk High School to celebrate the participants.

The district also hosted a Polar Spray, where students and staff were sprayed by a hose from the Dunkirk Fire Department. The event raised $2,643, including $1,020 from the third grade at Dunkirk Intermediate School. The district participates in the Polar Plunge each winter to benefit Special Olympics, as well.

Dunkirk was also heavily represented at the Special Olympics event held at SUNY Fredonia earlier this week, with athletes of all ages represented at the event.

Sedlacek remembers when the Unified program first started. He said the program has taught him “teamwork, practice and good effort.” His friendships grew over the years, as he boasted a list of classmates he considered his best friends including both Special Olympics athletes along with several varsity athletes.

Picking a highlight of his career was easy for Sedlacek: his first 3-pointer. That feat came in a game against Fredonia earlier this season at SUNY Fredonia. Sedlacek immediately ran over to Case and hugged him before heading back down the court to play defense.

“That was his emotion in the moment, and I think that’s what I love about it. It strips it down to what basketball really is all about. It’s just a team coming together and the excitement of it,” Case said.

Earlier this year, Sedlacek shouted into the microphone as the Unified Champion banner was revealed, “We’re all best friends here!” Case described how even just watching his team eat meals together proved Sedlacek’s statement to be true.

“Nothing is forced. They really have become best friends,” Case said. “We are living up to that championship banner.”

And now, for its efforts on the court, Dunkirk’s Unified program has another title to be proud of.

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