Stronger Together: Valley Unified Basketball League

Do you have plans this Saturday night?

Yes? Great.

Cancel them.

If at all possible, I strongly encourage you to go to the Valley Unified Basketball League Tournament at Turner Ashby High School instead. There will be a game at 6 and a game at 7.

Valley Unified Basketball League: Strong Together

The Valley Unified Basketball League is unique in that it features players with developmental disabilities. It’s the first league of its kind in our area. The league was formed in an effort to give these students an experience on the court that would be similar to the atmosphere that varsity teams garner. In an interview with WHSV, John Woodrum (Turner Ashby Athletic Director) elaborates:

We want them to be able to walk the halls the next day and have people say, ‘nice game last night’ or ‘we’re coming to watch you play.’ And that’s a big part of this. It’s the way high school sports should be. I mean, everybody out here supporting each other.

(Watch these videos from WHSV for more information!)

Four schools (Turner Ashby, Broadway, East Rockingham, and Spotswood) have participated in the league’s first season.

I attended the Turner Ashby vs. Spotswood game on Wednesday night. Within two minutes I was thoroughly inspired, misty-eyed, cheering, and trying desperately to snap pictures that would capture the atmosphere in that gym. I quickly realized that no amount of pictures could do justice to what was taking place… which is why you have to take the opportunity to go to the tournament on Saturday and see for yourself.

Here’s a little of what you’ll see if you go…


Obviously… there will be basketball in a basketball league. But you’ll get into it. You may forget to check the score, but you’ll be sitting on the edge of your seat and cheering with the rest of the crowd.


#23 on TA’s team prepares for a shot, remaining unphased by the tight defense


TA’s #5 and #12 make it to the other end of the court where they dutifully follow their coach’s instructions and raise their arms to prepare to defend their basket


TA cheerleaders cheer for #5 as he returns after scoring


Spotswood players wait for a rebound


The fans were out in force to cheer on the teams. Part way through the game I realized that I was cheering for both teams indiscriminately, I quickly discovered that I wasn’t the only one.


The TA band led the crowd in the national anthem to get the game started


A full crowd that just kept growing as the night went on


TA students stood the whole game to support their team


From the students to the coaches to the fans, everyone was there to support one another


Spotswood players congratulate each other after a good play


TA players break from their pre-game huddle


Coaches and players were there for each other with a high-five, encouraging word, or hug



At the risk of sounding cheesy or cliche, everyone really was a winner at this game.


TA’s #5 performs his signature celebratory leap across the court after scoring


TA’s #22 gives the cheering crowd two thumbs up before the game


…We’re talking tug-at-your-heart moments that demonstrate the power of a supportive community and the mutual benefit and blessing that is received by all involved when barriers are broken down and new friendships formed.

See below for one of the most memorable moments of the night:


TA’s # 15 helps #11 set up for a shot


What followed was an impressive display of determination (the kind that puts me to shame) as #11 attempted again and again to get the ball through the hoop to the accompaniment of heartfelt groans on each miss and encouraging cheers to try again from the crowd. On about the 8th attempt, the ball went through the hoop and the players, coaches, and fans from both teams erupted with cheers


I think it’s safe to say that the cheers and celebration were for something slightly more significant than the two points scored. We could all learn a lot from this little basketball league.


About Emily Marsh

Emily takes impressive photos, interviews interesting locals, and keeps things organized for Harrisonblog. She also works on special marketing projects, transaction management, and event management for The Harrisonburg Homes Team. Emily loves dogs, her friends and family, dancing, and getting outdoors.

2 thoughts on “Stronger Together: Valley Unified Basketball League

  1. Paul Riner

    Thanks for sharing some photos and memories from your experience with the Valley Unified Basketball League. Sports can reach across all boundaries, and your comments and pictures displayed that beautifully. Here’s hoping that more schools in the area can join next season and continue to make this league insprirational for players, families, and fans alike! Well done athletes of the UVBL!

    1. Lisa Oates

      What an awesome league! I know Emily enjoyed watching the game and writing this post. I agree she captured it fantastically.

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