For a coach from Lompoc, the Special Olympic’s Unified Game is the culmination of a journey

Jonathan Skinner
Medill Reports

LOS ANGELES – As Eddie Scipio and his basketball team from Lompoc, California participated in the NBA Special Olympics Unified game Saturday, he reflected on the journey that brought him there.

“When I played basketball in high school, they paired all of us up with special education students,” Scipio said, “and the relationship I built with my partner helped me find my calling.”

That calling would be to help students with and without intellectual disabilities work together. The journey would require him to leave his home of Pennsylvania and move to California.

Scipio came to California originally to play football in junior college then later accepted an offer to go to Brigham Young University to play. He would come back to California after a short stint at home in Pennsylvania and it was in Lompoc, California that his calling would be realized.

In Lompoc, about 45 minutes from Los Angeles, Scipio became the assistant football and basketball coach of the local high school. There he was also given the opportunity to help coach the school’s unified basketball team.

“Our team is mixed with players from special education and general education,” Scipio said. “You see him there, he’s a junior at the school and was just in the playoffs last night.” “And her, she’s a senior and the leading scorer at our school. But they all play together.”

The concept of integrated physical education and fitness is the cornerstone of the Special Olympics Unified Game. Scipio said he sees the benefits of the process with the way his students with intellectual disabilities are treated at school. The inclusion the students feel at school is the part he said he enjoys the most.

“Seeing the growth of the kids is the most rewarding,” Scipio said. “We play in front of our school, so the other students at school know them and they’re part of the community.”

The game played on Saturday in the Verizon Up Arena paired some of the top Special Olympics athletes from across the world with WNBA and former NBA stars. Current NBA players like Jayson Tatum, Kyle Kuzma and Larry Nance, Jr. were coaches for both teams.

On a court in a separate room from the arena, Scipio’s team participated in a basketball skills clinic in the morning. The pregame clinic included 80 local Special Olympic athletes in celebration of the Special Olympics’ 50th anniversary. Led by five-time NBA champ Ron Harper, WNBA star Skylar Diggins and other stars, the clinic allowed the students to get lessons from some of the best basketball players in the world.

“They took care of everything,” Scipio said about the NBA and Special Olympics funding the team’s trip to Los Angeles.

Coming to the game was an honor for the team but it won’t be the last time they travel for the Special Olympics. Scipio and the team will also attend the Special Olympic USA Games in Seattle this July.

Photo at top: Some of the Lompoc players participating in the morning skills clinics (Jonathan Skinner/MEDILL)