The Mississippi State Bulldogs defeated the University of Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles in the inaugural intramural Magnolia Madness Unified Sports rivalry basketball game Tuesday night, finishing out their season as undefeated champions.
Unified Sports is a Special Olympics program that puts people with and without intellectual disabilities on teams together. This is the second year MSU has hosted a six-week Unified Sports basketball league. Tuesday’s game supported Special Olympics Mississippi and the MSU ACCESS program.
The Bulldogs held a steady lead for the majority of the game, ending the game in victory with a final score of 42-36.
Freshman Cameron Jones talked about how he felt walking into the game on Tuesday.
"I came in nervous a little bit till one of my friends pointed out to my mom, and I was like alright, I gotta play hard for my mom," Jones said. "I was nervous, but came out to be strong and came out with a win, so I’m so happy about that."
The team has been practicing since February and played five intramural games before facing off against USM in the championship. Montelleo Hobley, one of MSU team’s head coaches, said the team has greatly improved in their ability to work together over the course of the season.
"In the first game, we had some spotlight players," Hobley said. "We had some players that were definitely in the spotlight- they were number ones. We had a conversation after the first game going into the second game about passing the ball so that everyone can get a chance to play, or at least attempt to shoot. Really learning that teamwork part—it’s not about me it’s about us—it’s a group thing.”
Martha Rayner, a junior educational psychology major, also spoke of how the team has grown stronger together by rooting for one another.
"I’ve loved seeing the encouragement and cheering throughout the season. I feel like we’ve bonded, as cliche as that sounds. That has brought us together to friendships and to a united team," Rayner said.
The Unified Sports league has provided a fantastic and cherished experience for all involved. Rebecca Abney, an MSU junior, said she loves the community aspect of the league.
"My favorite part about being on the team is coming together and being able to play in the Hump and just really have fun! I love playing with friends and having good teammates who support me," Abney said.
Jones also spoke about how much he enjoyed playing with his teammates.
“I love the nice, great friends I have on this team and how we work together," Jones said. "Every game we played was hard and tough, but I really enjoyed playing with this team and all these fun people that I love! They got me, I love to play with them. I love them a lot."
Hobley said he was able to learn a lot alongside and from the team this season.
"My favorite part about coaching is having the opportunity to do something I’ve never done before," Hobley said. "Basketball is not my forte. I’ve never played basketball. I watch it on T.V. and that’s about it. So, really being able to work with the students and do some drills—learning what drills are. I’ve learned along the way. It’s been a learning process together—the whole time.”
Rayner is finishing her first year working with the ACCESS program and said she is so thankful for the encouragement it has been to her. She encourages more students to find a way to get involved with the program.
"The ACCESS program is such an incredible part of State," Rayner said. "The students are filled with the most joy, especially if you like playing sports. I’m not athletic at all, but I still have the best time. It brightens your day by coming and watching them play, and getting to play with them and share that experience is really cool.”
More information about the ACCESS program can be found by visiting www.access.msstate.edu.