January 12, 2022


It was halftime at the 2020 National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA) regional basketball championships, and the Aggies were down. After missing a few shots in the first half, athlete Jaime Everett was kicking himself for not reaching his full potential.

That’s when his teammate Matthew Amézaga ’20 pulled him aside. “Hey, keep your head up,” he encouraged. “Keep shooting. We’re going to come out with a win, and it’s going to be because of you.”

The team returned to the court with renewed determination. As the clock ticked down, the Aggies were still behind by two. Boosted by Amézaga’s encouragement, Everett had the ball and took the shot for a 3-pointer. Everyone held their breath as the ball soared through the air. With a swish, it sailed through the hoop, sealing the regional championship title for Texas A&M University.

The team erupted into celebration. “It was exciting,” Everett recalled. “It brought all of us together.”

“I was so happy he didn’t give up,” Amézaga added. “Letting him know I believed in him and watching him do something like that for the team is one of my favorite memories.”

Though such displays of prowess and camaraderie are essential for any team, they are especially impactful for Texas A&M’s Unified Sports program. A partnership between Special Olympics of Texas and the Department of Recreational Sports, the group consists of athletes with intellectual disabilities like Everett and student partners without intellectual disabilities like Amézaga who find joy, develop empathy and form bonds while playing in unity.

Taking the Field

A lot of our athletes are Aggie fans and love the 12th Man, so for them to play at Texas A&M is like a bucket-list item.
- Nick Heiar

The program features two main sports: basketball in the spring and flag football in the fall, with occasional one-day competitions for other events, such as swim meets or bocce ball. Teams and games are organized like any other intramural event, with the same season structure, rules and number of players. Athletes and partners play side-by-side on a team, and athletes are involved in every play during a game. “We want everyone to understand that we’re all in this together,” Heiar said. “Unified games are integrated into a night of intramurals and treated like all the other games. Everyone’s welcome, and everyone supports each other.”

In addition to regular five-week seasons, the top players form a championship team to represent Texas A&M at competitions. In 2019, the university helped add a Unified division to the region IV basketball championships for NIRSA, a national organization that oversees collegiate intramurals. The Aggies won the inaugural title, and the team has since been named 2019 regional flag football champions and retained their regional basketball victory in 2020. This summer, they hope to take home a national title representing their university and state in the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games in Orlando, Florida.

More Than a Game

Through its focus on inclusion, Unified Sports provides its partners and athletes with life-changing experiences on and off the field. As athletes train and play with partners, they find acceptance, form bonds and build confidence, all while pursuing their shared love of the game. “They bring an element of joy to the way they play that’s energizing and fulfilling to watch,” Heiar said. “A lot of our athletes are Aggie fans and love the 12th Man, so for them to play at Texas A&M is like a bucket-list item.”

The athletic opportunities are an important aspect for athlete Ross Clubb. A Special Olympian who has represented the nation at the World Games, Clubb joined the Unified program in 2019 and is on the team heading to Florida this year. “I like that Unified is competitive,” he said.

Though the Aggies face highly skilled Unified teams at competitions, they’re confident in their own chances for success, added his dad Fred Clubb, a Texas A&M veterinary pathobiology professor and the team’s coach. “We have a great team this year,” he said. “Our partners and athletes are so good and have gelled so well that it gives us a marked advantage.”

Texas A&M's Unified Sports program holds regular basketball and flag football seasons in addition to one-day competitions like bocce ball.

Interacting with the partners is an additional element that sets Unified apart for Jaime Everett, a Special Olympian and another Unified team member heading to the summer games. “I like being involved with all the college students,” he said. “It’s really fun, and we’re bonding as a team.”

Like athletes, student partners also gain valuable experiences from the program as they connect with the athletes and find common ground. “One of the primary goals of Unified Sports is for the partners to experience something with those who might be a little bit different than them,” Heiar explained. “They can step out of their shoes and see that these athletes are amazing, talented individuals just like they are.”

Want to get involved with Texas A&M’s Unified Sports program? Support the teams today with a gift online, or contact Reagan Chessher ’96, senior director of development, at the bottom of this page to learn about more giving opportunities.

You can also request and download our free Giving Guide below for a broad introduction on how your gift can make a difference on campus.

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