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The City Journals

New Bingham unified sports coach recognizes accomplishments team learned in short season

May 18, 2020 12:27PM ● By Julie Slama

Although Bingham High unified basketball team had a shortened season, first-year coach Braxton Thornley was pleased with how the team came together and is looking forward to next year. (Photo courtesy of Kristen Cantrell)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

One of the first school-related events to be cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic was the state unified basketball tournament, set in early March.

Unified basketball is an opportunity for students or athletes with disabilities to play with their peers or partners who don’t have disabilities. These partners may not be the school’s top athletes, but they are dedicated to give the athletes an opportunity to play and are paired to their ability, said new Bingham High unified coach Braxton Thornley.

Even with the cancellation of state basketball — and the soccer season typically held in March and April — it doesn’t decrease the value of what these athletes and partners have gained this year, Thornley said.

“Many of our athletes played together in the previous season, so they were comfortable with each another, but they had to work with brand new partners and brand new coaches, so we had a lot of growth in our time together,” he said. 

Drills such as dribbling, shooting and passing were broken into players and partners working together. As some athletes and partners had never set foot on the court before, it also meant beginning with the basics.

“We’d work on skills, such as passing, and before they’d even throw the ball, we’d say the person’s name they were going to throw the ball to so that person could be ready with hands up,” Thornley said. “This helped with our team dynamics, knowing that everyone could pass and share the ball. We wanted everyone to participate.”

The team also learned how to communicate better—following directions and making sure what they were saying was clear to each other, he said. 

That translated to the court as the team played in their first — and only — tournament of the season, hosted at Hillcrest High in Midvale.

“Unified basketball is a little different than regular high school basketball,” he said. “Usually, we play in tournaments before state and depending on how you play is how many games you continue to play. We had two very close games against Murray and Corner Canyon.

While the team fell short of victory, Thornley liked what he saw.

“I have watched them grow and quickly improve,” he said. “We were able to develop relationships, and great things were happening with the team.”

The team’s pinning ceremony, planned for March 18, has been put on hold. With school closed, Thornley plans to write each a note and award them their pin in the mail.

Meanwhile, like most coaches, Thornley is looking forward to the next season.

“We had one senior athlete, so we have a young team,” he said.

While that senior athlete also typically plays soccer and runs track, Thornley said he was glad the senior got to play basketball, his favorite sport. 

Thornley has communicated with his athletes and partners during the school’s soft closure, emailing them to congratulate them on the great basketball season.

“Coaching these athletes and partners has been the best experience,” he said. “They get so excited even with the smallest of improvements.”