2012-07-19 / News

Unified sports plays big part in recent grad’s high school years

Andrew Burrows played volleyball, managed b-ball

Andrew Burrows considered playing high school basketball, but time ran out on his high school career. So instead of playing, Andrew, 18, managed the North Kingstown unified basketball team.

The team had a successful season, according to coach Peter Maroni. It went 6-1 and made the playoffs, although they lost to Cranston East in the quarterfinals

“It was a great year with many athletes improving and supporting each other,” said Maroni.

The unified basketball league puts varsity athletes and students with disabilities side by side on the same team. Rhode Island Special Olympics and the Rhode Island Interscholastic League organized unified sports four years ago. Its popularity is growing, and the basketball league now has 25 teams.

Andrew, the son of Ed and Melissa Burrows, was the only islander connected to the team this season. He graduated from North Kingstown in June and is spending the summer working and continuing his education. He also belongs to a bowling league and may plan in an adult volleyball league through the rec center.

“It depends on what I have going on,” he said.

According to his mom, Andrew is battling Asperger’s syndrome, a developmental disorder resembling autism that can be characterized by impaired social interaction, repetitive behavior and cognitive development. He’s intelligent, but can run into challenges if he becomes too absorbed in a single subject, she said.

Andrew played on the Skippers’ unified volleyball team in the fall and was part of a near-perfect season. He went out for the team because a few of his high school teachers told him he should give it a try.

“We went undefeated in all our meets,” he said. “And let me clarify that. Each meet consists of three games. We only lost one game.”

Ironically, that defeat was to East Greenwich, the team that bounced the Skippers out of the playoffs in the first round. But the Skippers came away with a satisfying victory in the consolation match against Bishop Hendricken.

“We had to go up against ‘Mendricken,’” he joked, using the team nickname to describe the athletes who appear to be more men than boys.

After the Skippers handed Hendricken a defeat in the regular season, Andrew said the Hawks were out for revenge. “The second game in the season, we crushed them,” he said. This time, the Hendricken coach complained because North Kingstown’s roster included some varsity players.

“We didn’t know that was against the rules,” Andrew said, and although he disagreed with the league’s decision to side with Hendricken, the Skippers ultimately conceded that point and went out and recruited some new players.

But the strategy didn’t do Hendricken much good. The Hawks lost anyway.

“They still played really well and beat them,” said Melissa, Andrew’s mother.

“We took third place – same as last year,” Andrew said. “We didn’t budge.”

Andrew opted to play through injuries and said getting hurt is just part of volleyball.

“I always have to get injured at some point,” he smiled, but the way it happened this season surprised him. He didn’t expect to take a hit during the practice before the playoffs even started.

According to Andrew, someone was serving across court and that ball smacked the volleyball Andrew was holding and snapped his thumb back. But the pain was a small price to pay for the success.

It was the fun that Andrew had during the volleyball season that made him decide to participate in the spring program. He had intended to go out for the unified basketball team his junior year but missed the tryouts. As an avid sports fan, he knows hockey, baseball and football, his mother said. This year, he started following the Celtics.

“I’m into three New England teams, I might as well be into the fourth,” he said. “I didn’t understand certain rules and stuff about basketball, but I’ve learned a lot.”

As team manager, Andrew helped keep the stats and also handed out equipment. A classmate, Eliza Drew, also managed the team. Overall, he said it was a learning experience.

He will continue to learn new games over the summer, he said, but for the time being, he’s focusing on computer games. At the New England Institute of Technology’s tech camp, he is delving into video game design. He’s not yet sure if he wants to pursue video gaming as a career, but said that’s one possibility.

“I play a lot of video games.” Currently, the games are “more of a hobby,” but that could change. “I’m open to turning it into a career. I know I’d stick with it.”

Andrew may be headed for the Community College of Rhode Island. His sister Jessica, 21, just graduated from CCRI and will continue her studies at Rhode Island College. He may follow in her footsteps.

“I’m thinking about doing it,” he said. He’s also considering a yearlong certificate program, a partnership between CCRI and National Grid.

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