By Kristin Fox
“Continuing the movement of building community,” Franklin High School will hold its 4th annual FHS UNIFY March Madness on March 30, 2023, at 6:00 p.m. in the Panther Den. The event will kick off with opening ceremonies and player introductions beginning at 6:00 p.m.
UNIFY March Madness is a basketball showcase for persons with disabilities who have been helped to learn the game of basketball by FHS student-athletes.
Through shared basketball training and experiences, UNIFY March Madness joins and benefits students with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team. With the help of teachers and coaches, Franklin High Leadership students have been helping plan and lead the event.
During weekly practices, Franklin High Special Education students have been practicing the game of basketball in preparation to compete in the UNIFY March Madness game. The players have been practicing for the big game twice a week for the last three months.
Athletes will be on the red or white team proudly wearing the school colors. They will be coached by FHS teachers and coaches. FHS students are chosen to represent partners for the event’s players.
The UNIFY game is free admission and is open to the public. Concessions will be sponsored by the FHS Booster Club.
“Franklin High School and our student body welcome the Macon County community to come enjoy this very special night in the Panther Den,” said Penny Moffitt, FHS teacher and Student Leadership Adviser. “We unify our school and community through this event, everyone is welcome.”
UNIFY March Madness will begin pre-game activities right after school hours. Players will get dressed in FHS uniforms and enjoy a pregame meal sponsored by Chick-fil-A. Following dinner, the players will participate in the Parade of Champions walking down Panther Drive from the English building to the gym cheered on along the way by fellow students and teachers.
Players will then head to the locker rooms to prepare for the game and begin warm-ups at 5:50 p.m. Following warmups, the crowd, and players will join in the National Anthem led by Bianka Wills and player introductions and handshakes. Directly after the pre-game chant, the tip-off will signal the beginning of this year’s annual UNIFY game.
This year’s UNIFY event will feature entertainment between quarters and during halftime. Halftime will showcase family-friendly entertainment provided by ZOOperstars. ZOOperstars are professional entertainers with a unique and crazy stage show that features hilarious inflatable characters with clever names. The entertainers combine synchronized dance routines, acrobatics, and comedy into a crazy and fun performance that connects with fans of all ages.
Unify March Madness will conclude with post-game awards followed by an autograph table with the basketball players.
The FHS Booster Club is the main sponsor for the event. UNIFY March Madness also has some anonymous sponsors that help purchase t-shirts to be handed out to the first 400 FHS students to the game. Another sponsor helps fund the event’s ZOOperstars entertainment.
Each year, FHS has hosted the UNIFY game, and the school has been recognized with the NCHSAA Commissioners’ Cup award. The Commissioners’ Cup is awarded to a team or athletic-associated group performing some type of service project or community service. Schools had their team or teams identify a need within the community and create a plan to conduct the service project. Each winning program receives a $1,000 stipend for their respective team or school athletic program.
The FHS Athletic Program, in collaboration with the Special Education Department, participated in multiple projects throughout the year to increase school spirit and unify the school. The athletes could be seen treating the custodians to a candlelight lunch, leaving teachers and fellow students encouraging notes, recognizing unspoken leaders on campus, and hosting the UNIFY March Madness game to earn this special honor.
The FHS athletes also host a UNIFY Soccer Classic each fall in the FHS gym during school hours at a pep rally for FHS students.
For more information, leading up to the UNIFY March Madness event, please visit the FHS Facebook and Instagram pages @FHSStudentLeadership.