Playing a team sport provides valuable life lessons and as part of Spectrum360’s basketball program, every student has the opportunity to learn them – and have a lot of fun!

Academy360’s basketball program is one of the many ways we strive to provide our students with as typical a school environment as possible while providing the support they need to succeed.

High school basketball player and cheerleader.
Our cheerleaders are an important part of our basketball program.

“The teams are co-ed and are open to all students,” explains Megan Durkin, Physical Education teacher and basketball coach at Academy360 Lower School, “One of the most important goals is just getting them out there and giving them the chance to experience playing a game.” Stephen Waters, physical education teacher, and coach of the Academy360 Upper School team agrees, “It’s open to everyone interested, with players from the 6th grade to the young adult program,” Stephen says. “Whoever expresses an interest will play on a team!”

While our basketball program formally starts with the Middle School team, students in every grade learn basketball skills during Physical Education class. Even pre-school students join in the fun and are taught dribbling skills. When they reach the middle school, some students ask to join the team, but Coach Durkin says if she sees a student is doing well in PE and has potential, she will send information home in an attempt to recruit the student.

Coach Waters, who has been teaching at Academy360 for over 25 years, continues to teach basketball skills to students who have moved up from the Lower School and to others entering Academy360 Upper School. “Much of what I do with the kids is basic basketball skills, so when it comes to either a game or playing outside with friends, they have an idea how to play. A lot of it is skills, game styles, and working with each other,” he offered.

Working with peers at other special needs schools and organizations, Coach Durkin and Coach Waters organize both home and away games for basketball season, which runs from January through March. Games are played on Friday mornings.

What you see on the court is very similar to what you’ll see at any school basketball game, with a few differences. “We do follow the rules of the game, but to keep the game flowing, we don’t have strict rules,” explains Coach Waters. “We adapt certain rules to the players’ skills and ability, so we won’t call traveling or we will give someone more time to make their move.”

Young girl in basketball uniform.
Our program is co-educational.

“Some students understand that it is a competition and are very excited when someone makes a basket, but others don’t care, they just love the action and accomplishment,” adds Coach Durkin.

Even for the students who don’t play, basketball season is an exciting time. Each team has a cheerleading squad which attends every game, and Academy360 Upper School kicks off their season with a big pep rally for students and staff.

Students not on the team love come to home games, with homeroom teachers organizing opportunities for each class to take in a game and cheer for their classmates. When they can, parents join the excitement. “The games are a lot of fun,” says Coach Durkin, “Everyone really gets into it.”

Playing basketball is great for more than just physical exercise, too. Team sports teach confidence, build relationships, contribute to stronger academics, teach respect, and helps put winning in perspective.

“They get so much out of playing. There’s a sense of teamwork, being able to work with together, being patient, the camaraderie… I could go on. It really builds their self-esteem,” says Coach Waters.

“They learn how to deal with accepting when the things don’t go their way, how to come back from adversity and keep going and striving to accomplish something,” he explains. “ Over the years, I’ve seen that for some of our students who have behavioral issues, playing basketball often really helped turn their behaviors around. They really learn what playing the game is about and to accept other people’s weakness. They learn empathy.”

Basketball player getting ready to take a shot.
Our middle school program in action.

“It’s amazing what sports can do. With the older ones, just letting them know how to use the knowledge of connecting sports with life, and how to apply the skills they learn while playing is valuable,” Coach Waters concludes.

Coach Durkin agrees. “Also, one of the big takeaways is that students get to play with kids who aren’t in their own class or school, so they interact with different people and make new friends.”

While the program means a lot to the students and their families, for the coaches there is a huge sense of pride, joy and personal accomplishment.

There’s a lot of happiness in Coach Water’s voice when he says, “It challenges you to break the game of basketball down to its basic components. It’s very interesting, as it allows you to teach the game in a different way so these kids can understand it. And once they get it, it’s a beautiful thing to see them execute it. To see their achievement is really remarkable. And I love it, to see how they love the game.”

 Lisa Crouch is the Assistant to the Public Information Officer.  Prior to working at Spectrum360, she worked at Yahoo, MSN, The Bergen Record, and other media outlets.  She has a BA in English Literature from Columbia University.  She is the proud aunt of an Academy360 Lower School student. In her off time, Lisa is a digital artist and writer.