A group of students and staff members from Lompoc High School were among the participants in the NBA All-Star festivities put on this past weekend in Los Angeles.
Nine students who participate in Lompoc High’s Project Unify Club, which is based on a Special Olympics program that brings together students enrolled in both special and general education classes for sports events, traveled with three staff members to the Los Angeles Convention Center on Saturday for an NBA Cares Clinic and the NBA's Unified Basketball Game.
While there, the students received pointers from current and former NBA and WNBA players, and had a chance to watch the Unified Basketball Game, which featured Special Olympics athletes from around the world playing with and against former NBA and WNBA players. The students also attended a practice session for the NBA All-Star game, which took place Sunday at Staples Center.
Lompoc High teacher Marjie Ledgerwood, who is the adviser of the school's Project Unify Club and was among the staff chaperones on the trip, said it was a "once-in-a-lifetime experience" for many of the Lompoc High student-athletes.
"Our whole team enjoyed watching and yelling for their favorite athletes," she said, referring to the All-Star practice session. "We even had some students find their way onto the Jumbotron during the dance-cam break — another definite highlight.
"Overall, the experience was a very fun way for our team to learn more about one another, grow closer as a team, experience some life learning, and learn a little bit about basketball, too," she added.
The Lompoc students were invited to the event by the Northern Santa Barbara County Special Olympics. Lompoc High Principal Paul Bommersbach said he was thankful for the support from the Special Olympics, as well as from the employees at Lompoc High who make field trips like Saturday's possible.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for all students to work together for a common goal,” Bommersbach said of Project Unify and the NBA trip. “I just thank the staff members who are taking their own time to do this for our Lompoc High School kids.”
The other Lompoc High staff members who chaperoned on the trip were Tom Garrard and Eddie Scipio. Elysha Perry, a representative of the Northern Santa Barbara County Special Olympics, also attended with the students.
Among the instructors at the NBA Cares Clinic was former NBA player Horace Grant, who won a combined four championships with the Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls during his 17-season career, as well as WNBA legend Swin Cash, who won three WNBA titles and two Olympic gold medals with Team USA during her playing career, and Elena Delle Donne, a current player for the WNBA’s Washington Mystics.
About 80 kids in total participated in the clinic.
The Unified Game, which featured local Special Olympics standouts John Hall and Kaprisha Trotter, also featured some NBA star power as current players Jayson Tatum, Kyle Kuzma and Larry Nance Jr. served as coaches.
"Seeing others compete in the competitive model of Unified Basketball gave us great insight into what we have to work toward," Ledgerwood said.
The students will try to build off that insight this summer when they travel to Seattle, Washington, to represent Special Olympics Southern California at the USA Games.
Ledgerwood said she was also thankful for the Northern Santa Barbara County Special Olympics for providing the opportunity.
"The experience allowed our team to gain some valuable skills," she said, noting that the NBA Cares Clinic focused on life lessons in addition to instruction in basketball.