PORTLAND-- Every jump ball is filled with smiles and joy at Portland's George Middle School.
Basketball has given special needs students a unique bond with other students that's changing the entire school.
The school's speech pathologist, Annie Simpson, created a program that teams special needs kids up with student mentors.
These are real relationships they are building here on the court and it's already spreading throughout the school, said Simpson.
Geronimo Garcia-Rolins, 13, is one of the student mentors.
I'm learning some of these kids have challenges, but they are pretty cool and they can also play basketball really well, said Garcia-Rolins.
Alana Burny said coaching the diverse group of middle schoolers is incredibly rewarding.
Middle school is sometimes a very tough place for these kids, but what's happening here is really improving the entire community at the school, said Burny
Student mentors are developing leadership skills, but most importantly, they're making friends.
The unified basketball team recently traveled to Springfield for a tournament and won a bronze medal. The program is so successful that plans are already in the works for a unified soccer team.