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Southside Unified basketball wins state championship

By March 28, 2023April 20th, 2023No Comments

Mar 28, 2023

The Southside Unified basketball team

In a standout 30-year career, including 26 years at De La Salle, Coach Tom White built an impressive resume that includes 417 wins, six Chicago Catholic League titles and 8 regional titles.

But for White, who stepped down as the boys basketball coach in 2021, he wasn’t done with coaching just yet.

White was the head coach this winter for the Southside Unified basketball team that features Special Olympics athletes from Southside Occupational Academy High School and student-athletes from De La Salle.

Southside won the Unified IHSA Division II state championship on March 11 with a win over East St. Louis at the Activities and Recreation Center on the University of Illinois campus in Champaign.

“That was the most intense game I’ve ever coached in,” White said. “We’d never won a team state title at De La Salle, so while it’s a little different, it’s just as great. Going downstate with the team, being together and winning, that’s one of the best 36 hours of my life.”

White is the athletic director at De La Salle.

The Unified IHSA sports programs unite Special Olympic athletes and student-athletes in high school in basketball, dance, bowling, bass fishing, track and field, and e-sports.

This was the first year De La Salle and Southside Occupational worked together to form teams across several different sports, starting with bowling in the fall and then basketball in the winter.

White said several Occupational students approached him early in the fall about forming the Unified teams, and from there, White contacted school administrators.

“It’s a great group of kids who came in, so I went to our administration and said, ‘What do you think?’ They said ‘Let’s do it!’” White said. “We went from there and started with bowling. Once we did bowling, we couldn’t say no with basketball.”

De La Salle beat the three-time defending state champion, the Limestone Rockets, in the state semifinals and then defeated East St. Louis in the championship game.

Games are played with three Special Olympic athletes and two student-athletes on the court together at all times.

The Southside Unified roster includes Special Olympic athletes Trevon Darden, Brandon Dorsey, Matthew Furdge, Cesar Galindo, Dayquon Haywood and Marcus Holmes. The De La Salle student-athletes include Dylan Clark, David Coffey, Chris Cole, Kaleb Navarro and Timothy Schergen.

White is assisted by John Brogan, Dwan Dumas and Mike Walsh.

From the start of the season, White said, the Special Olympic athletes and the De La Salle student-athletes bonded.

“They are brothers and classmates,” White said. “In our De La Salle community, diversity is hugely represented. With that variety, we’re not all the same here. This shows a different aspect of that. You want to give opportunities to develop to people of all abilities. We had a pep rally for the team, and our whole student body is there screaming and dancing.”

White said the team met at De La Salle early on the morning of March 10, ate breakfast and worked through a short practice and shootaround before driving down to Champaign for the semifinal matchup.

After the Limestone win, all four state teams were treated to a movie, which was a huge bonding experience, and then competed in the state championship the next day.

“At dinner and the movies, you’ve never seen so much chicken wings, pizza, popcorn, pop and candy eaten,” White said with a laugh. “When they dumped water on me after the East St. Louis win, it was such a great feeling.”

White was named the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Special Olympics Coach of the Year.

De La Salle will play host to the Unified track meet this spring.

As well, the plan going forward is to continue the bowling and basketball programs.

“These kids, they hold you accountable. If you say, ‘Hey, be ready to shoot at noon,’ you better have the balls ready at noon,” White said. “You better back up what you say. Watching this team, the Special Olympic athletes and our De La Salle students, it’s just normal kids having fun. You’d never know that three months ago they’d never met before.”

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