On a night of inclusion and celebration, the Auburn community stepped up and supported the Auburn School District’s first intracity “Pack the Gym” night, which brings students and athletes with intellectual disabilities together.
“It was absolutely amazing, it is giving me goosebumps,” said Auburn Unified Coach Stefanie Freeman of the Feb. 6 event.
“Pack the Gym” is a strategy given to schools to be a unified champion school by Special Olympics Washington.
Auburn and Kentridge high schools had hosted “Pack the Gym” prior to this year. But this was the first time two Auburn schools had been on the court and celebrated on a night like this as Auburn High School hosted Auburn Mountainview High School.
“We could see that rivalry and see the excitement to play each other … I have been looking forward to this for many years,” Freeman said.
Auburn unified basketball has been on their own in the last seven years in the district, but this year, the Lions program kicked off and played their first game in quite the atmosphere.
“It warms my heart most of all. … So much support is amazing,” Auburn Mountainview Head Coach Adrianna Rocha said.
After attending two of these events, Auburn is on the right track to creating one of the more special events that students, staff and parents can experience in the school year.
“To watch it (unified sports) grow is amazing. It has been a dream of mine to have all the schools involved. It’s a big deal for me and I have been able to help Mountainview this year,” Freeman said.
With Auburn Mountainview starting their unified program this year, Auburn’s head coach Stefanie Freeman played a monumental role for Rocha: “She’s trained me. If it wasn’t for her, I don’t think we would have a unified program,” Rocha said.
The event was not about who scored the most points. It was about giving these kids who may seem different on the outside, but on the inside are just like their peers who enjoy sports.
“It’s all about inclusion and trying to make everyone feel welcome in the school,” Freeman said.
Fans were chanting students’ names during the game, which doesn’t even happen during non-unified basketball games.
“Seeing our kids hyping up our athletes was insane,” Rocha said.
An Auburn Mountainview player even was pumping up the crowd: “He was asking for the crowd to pump him up. Seeing and feeling that love and support from the community was my favorite part,” Rocha said.
A week following the Kent School District’s “Pack the Gym,” the support that they received may have given the Auburn students motivation to come out and support their fellow students.
“I think that really encouraged our kids from our general population to come out because they see that other schools are doing it … We really did try to push out the word with videos, posters and leadership. It really spread by word of mouth,” Rocha said.
Following the game, there were lots of hugs and smiles from families, coaches and everyone involved. According to Freeman, the plan is to build on this event, and even have Auburn Riverside participate with their own team next year.