Classmates rally around special needs students at HS basketball game

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(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
GILBERT, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -

It felt like a big playoff game at Mesquite High School in Gilbert Tuesday, with the band, cheerleaders and fired-up crowd.

And that was the idea.

"They don't normally get an opportunity to play in front of a crowd of this magnitude," said coach Gloria Hernandez. "We really tried to make it as special as we could for them."

None of the players who took the court were star athletes, but they still showed plenty of passion finding the open shot.

The teams were made up of special needs students like Kiley Christiansen, who was getting a chance to show fans that their disabilities won't keep them down.

"It's kind of like showing off," said Christiansen. "It's like hey, we can do this, too."

"I always had this as my dream," said student Daniel Pizano. "I always dreamed of being on a team and now it's coming true."

This year's Unified basketball game was a back and forth battle between Mesquite High School and Desert Ridge High School, with parents on both sides... bursting with pride with every pass and drive to the hoop.

"They don't get a chance to watch their kids and share something like this," said special education teacher Angela Olberding. "We just wanted the kids to have that moment - have their kids at an event where the school is behind them."

"I thought it was amazing," said grandmother Tina Verdugo. "It was just amazing to see him play, to see all of them play, and all of them get a chance to do what most kids can do. It's their dream."

The game ended in a tie, but nobody seemed to care about the score. Both teams felt the thrill of victory in a game most players will never forget. 

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Jason Barry
Jason Barry has been reporting in the Valley since 1997.

Click to learn more about Jason.

Jason Barry

Jason Barry has been reporting in the Valley since 1997.

He is a nine-time Rocky Mountain Emmy Award winner who is best known for his weekly Dirty Dining reports, which highlight local restaurants with major health code violations.

Jason was born in Los Angeles and graduated from the University of Miami.

An avid sports fan, Jason follows the Diamondbacks, Cardinals and Suns with his wife, Karen, and son, Joshua.

His favorite stories to cover are the station’s Pay it Forward segments, which reward members of the community with $500 for going ‘above and beyond’ the call of duty to help others.

Jason, started his career at WBTW-TV in Florence, SC before moving to WALA-TV in Mobile, AL, was named the Associated Press Reporter of the Year in 2002.

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