Meet for basketball games every Thursday.

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Special Olympians and Drew athletes practice basketball together in the Baldwin gym.

On Thursday evenings during the spring 2015 semester, Drew student athletes and Special Olympics athletes meet in Simon Forum for basketball games, thanks to the Unified Sports Program, which promotes social inclusion of people with differing intellectual abilities through sports.

“It’s just fabulous,” said Jean Earle, whose daughter Morgan is a participating Special Olympian. “It’s so nice to have the whole thing integrated.”

The play is fun, yet also competitive. The Drew teams will square off against other Unified Sports Program teams at the Shriver Cup tournament this Saturday at Rider University.

Brittany Gaetano, Drew’s women’s basketball coach started the program in fall 2014 and said that participation by Drew athletes and Special Olympians has grown through word of mouth. On a recent Thursday, nearly 40 players and coaches were were on the court. “There’s a lot of camaraderie, competing and playing,” she said. “It’s very fun.”

John Marques, a Drew sophomore and goalkeeper for the men’s soccer team, received a big hug and high five from his teammate and Special Olympian Alex as they warmed-up. Marques said he volunteered with disabled students when he was in high school and wanted to get involved when he heard about the United Sports program. “It was just something I really enjoyed,” he said. “We laugh and have fun.”

Andrea, a player who is a member of the Special Olympics, said, “The coach is awesome. I like the atmosphere and meeting new people.”