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Unified Sports now open to all New York high school students

The state agreed to allow 20 and 21-year-olds with special needs to join teams. The previous age limit had been 19 years old.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Unified Sports teams in New York State will now include students with special needs who previously aged out when they turned 20.

"It's not about the wins and losses. It's about the high-fives, and the hugs, and just being with their friends," Mike Poreda said.

In Unified Sports, students with special needs in New York can join bowling and basketball teams.

"There's three special needs kids on the court at any given time with two typical kids, and they just kind of keep things moving along. It's all about the aiding and development of the special needs kids," Poreda said.

Poreda's son, Chris, just turned 21. Up until last season, Chris played on Sweet Home's Unified basketball team. But even though students with special needs can be in high school until they're 21, Section VI rules had them aging out of Unified Sports after the age of 19.

"So, your son missed all of last basketball season, right?" asked 2 On Your Side’s Kelly Dudzik.

"All of last basketball season," Poreda said.

"What was that conversation like when you had to tell him that news?" Dudzik asked.

"He didn't understand why, and he was happy he could still be part of it, and shoot free throws at halftime and whatever, but it's not the same," Poreda said.

A group of Western New Yorkers took action, helping to convince the Board of Regents to change the rules.

“What do you think it's going to mean for your son to be able to be back out on the basketball court?" Dudzik asked.

"Oh, he's pretty happy about it. The biggest part is their game, you know, I mean it's their varsity, it's their cheers from the crowd, and he gets it," Poreda said. “Even if Chris wouldn't have been able to play this year, I would have had to have seen it through. Even if it didn't benefit me on a personal level.

"Luckily, it does, so we can enjoy it for one more year, but it feels pretty good that we got something done."

Bowling starts back up soon and basketball starts this spring. Poreda hopes Unified Sports programs continue to expand across the state.

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