AMHERST, N.Y. (WKBW) — When you watch Francesca Kotowski play basketball, you can see how much fun she's having.
She was one of roughly 50 athletes from both Sweet Home and Clarence High Schools taking part in a unified basketball game on Friday afternoon.
"They have ice in their veins," Sweet Home Athletic Director Matt LaRoach said. "They want to perform on the big time stage and we'll call this the big time stage today. They love it."
Unified basketball involves pairing those with some form of intellectual disability with a partner. Both of them play the game and learn from each other.
Kaleb Luton is a senior at Sweet Home. He wants to study special education after high school so being a part of this program brings him a lot of joy.
"It's just a good, heartwarming feeling that you get," he said. "You see the parents that show up and sometimes, they have tears in their eyes when they see how happy their child is getting a bucket."
Joy that extends far beyond the athletes and their parents. When you looked around the gym on Friday, it was packed with students and teachers. It all stemmed from an idea that became pretty popular.
Last year, Sweet Home was the first school in Western New York to hold a unified basketball game during school hours and since then, schools like Iroquois and Starpoint have followed suit. The Panthers hope this becomes an annual tradition all around WNY; an event that includes everyone.
"The students all year long since September have been coming to our high school administration, our athletic department saying can we please do this again," LaRoach said. "We felt like this was a no-brainer. We just knew how much it touched so many people in our district last year. We were just really happy to do it again this year."
Bringing an entire student body and their families together where the score doesn't count but the amount of fun does.