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Murray Journal

Murray High unified student-athletes team up with U of U women’s basketball team

Mar 08, 2023 01:56PM ● By Julie Slama

At halftime at the University of Utah’s women’s basketball game’s inclusion night, First Lady Abby Cox, Murray High unified student-athletes Emmie Brinton and Lauren Fetzer joined Swoop on the floor as honorary coaches. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

Emmie Brinton may have been the star of the game—and she never had the ball in her hands.

The Murray High unified student-athlete, along with her teammate senior Lauren Fetzer and First Lady Abby Cox, were honorary coaches at the Jan. 27 inclusion night at University of Utah women’s basketball game.

It went beyond a wave to the audience, slapping hands with “The Muss” student section, getting a tour of the locker room, high-fiving players and coaches or even fist-bumping the red-tailed hawk mascot, Swoop.

“I gave coach (Lynne Roberts) advice,” Brinton said. “I said, ‘We’re good. We’re No. 1. We’ll win.’”

At one point, she joined the U of U radio broadcasters Milee Enger and Tyson Ewing and put on a set of headphones to “help call the game.” 

Brinton also gave a hug to point guard Issy Palmer who came out of the game after an injury.

“I wanted to go on the court to help get up, but they wouldn’t let me,” she said.

Brinton got to “Light the U” with the players and other honorary coaches after the Utes, then ranked No. 9 in the country, held off a late University of Southern California rally for the 83-73 victory.

The U promoted Special Olympics’ upcoming inclusion week at this game and the next two days later against the No. 8 UCLA, where power forward Alissa Pili drove to the rim for a layup with less than a second left on the clock to beat then ranked No. 8 UCLA by two points. 

In support of unified sports programs, Roberts donated $100 for every 3-pointer the team made, totaling $1,400 that will be used for Special Olympics’ programming.

The U also has unified sports, as do most Utah colleges and universities, recently receiving the sportsmanship award at the national intramural flag football championships.

However, Brinton and Fetzer didn’t leave their teammates behind. Murray High’s unified team were invited to sit in a section near the bench and during the game, a video was shown on the jumbotron showing the Utes joining the Spartans in their gym.

“We played basketball with them,” student-athlete Vale Condori said after shooting a basket. “We learned from them. They were cheering and gave us T-shirts and autographs on a big poster. The First Lady gave me a hug.”

Rebounding for him was junior Jenelle Westenskow, who has been a peer tutor for three years.

“I like unified basketball because everyone comes together in a judgment-free zone,” she said. “The U players were nice to our students and another gym class came to watch and were supportive, cheering everyone on. It was a really cool experience and really special for our athletes.”

During the practice, the U players ran through some dribbling and shooting drills and scrimmaged with the Murray High team.  

The public service announcement was filmed to promote the upcoming Inclusion Week, which Murray High as well as others worldwide will celebrate the week of Feb. 27. Utah’s Special Olympics Youth Activation Committee, which has pairs of high school students representing schools around the state, planned statewide spirit days for all schools to encourage participation and promote inclusion in school activities.

Fetzer said the experience in the video and at the U will be one she remembers.

“It was amazing to see Emmie interact with the team and be excited when the First Lady remembered her name,” she said. “Everyone was very kind to us. There were always cameras around, but she was just herself, being a friend to everyone. This is my first year and I’ve learned that’s the cool part of being part of the unified team. They’re so happy, so nice, so welcoming to everyone.”

During the basketball clinic, Cox told the team the importance of unified sports. As part of her Show Up Initiative, she is a steadfast supporter of Special Olympics Unified Sports. Roberts then pumped them up for their upcoming basketball season.

The Murray High Spartans were scheduled to host a regional unified basketball tournament Feb. 27 before the 63 teams are narrowed to the top 32. The state tournament will be played March 8 at Weber State University.

“I’m excited to hang out and cheer and laugh,” Condori said. “The best part is to cheer for each other, even for the other team. It’s fun.”

Before that, unified players had the opportunity to be part of the NBA All-Star Weekend that was held in Salt Lake City over Presidents’ Weekend. About 200 unified student-athletes were invited to shoot around with NBA and WNBA players Feb. 17 at the University of Utah.

“This all has been a really cool way to promote unified sports and inclusion, with the First Lady, the U of U women’s basketball team and with the All-Star weekend,” Unified Champion School’s College-growth Coordinator Boston Iacobazzi said. “We’re growing, and we’re building more inclusive schools and giving students more opportunities.”