Video By Grace Olson

Copy By Michelle R. Martinelli

ARLINGTON, Va. — Sixteen-year-old Adam Hines wasn’t always the charming and social student he is now at Bishop O’Connell High School.

The sophomore with special needs didn’t talk much and usually kept to himself. But then he started playing basketball with the Knights’ varsity team this season and learning from peer mentors on the court and in the classroom.

Hines is one of six students working with the school’s 'Expanded Services', which opens the door to an inclusive high school environment with a Catholic curriculum for those with cognitive and intellectual disabilities. At the beginning of the 2016-17 winter sports season, those services introduced Basketball Club, where five of the students join the varsity team to shoot around, run drills and compete in team relays.

“Adam loves playing basketball,” his mother, Janet Hines, said. “This has brought so much out in Adam. He came here as a very shy boy, and now, he has just blossomed as a result of this program. [He is] always asking about basketball, and he likes playing with his friends, and they act as his role models.”

Expanded Services — a two-year-old program at Bishop O’Connell — added 'Basketball Club' as another piece of the mission to provide a well-rounded education.

Originally, Susan Rinaldi, director of Expanded Services, approached varsity coach Joe Wootten looking for some gym time for the students to work with their peer mentors — some of whom are on the team. But she said Wootten suggested integrating the club with the whole varsity group and volunteered to help run it.

Playing with the basketball team, the students in Expanded Services have the chance to benefit from sports the same way the varsity players do.

“They learn self-confidence, they’re building relationships, they’re out there with the varsity players and building bonds, and I think they’re really gaining skills form the varsity players,” Rinaldi said. “I think both sides are learning quite a lot, actually.”

Junior shooting guard Matt Becht and junior guard/forward D’Marco Baucum are two of Hines’ peer mentors on the team, so they help him with English class as well as basketball. Expanded Services and Basketball Club “transformed the school,” Becht said, as a model for how to interact with people with disabilities.

Dozens of students showed up early to the varsity game against St. John’s on Tuesday night to cheer on Basketball Club. The crowd roared during the team relays and each time a student took a shot.

“It was really important to make sure they knew the student body was there supporting them,” Bishop O’Connell senior Luke Stievater said. “Everybody’s the same — we’re all the same children under God, so it’s really awesome to see everyone getting together.”

Like the other students in Basketball Club, Hines’ shot and dribbling have improved, and his outgoing personality developed.

“He’s a cool dude,” Baucum said. “He’s very funny, and he has all the ladies’ [attention] in school. Every time I’m walking him back to class, all the ladies [say], ‘Hey, Adam, hey!’”