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'The Future Is Bright': Middle School Unified Basketball Program Celebrates First Season In Newton

NEWTON (CBS) - At more than two dozen Massachusetts middle schools, some of the most priceless life lessons - are happening after school hours.

"I learned how great Liam is at basketball," 12-year-old Connor said, of his teammate with a beaming smile.

Thursday afternoon, Newton, Needham and Natick students celebrated their first stellar season of unified basketball. The program already exists at many high schools, but with the help of Special Olympics it's trickling down to the middle school level.

Our neighbors and friends with intellectual disabilities faced extra obstacles throughout the pandemic. But they were brave. They overcame. And that's so worth cheering for.

"Being at school at home, wearing a mask. They're so scheduled that anything causing a difference is really hard for them. This is the best," said Fran Jonas, of her 7th grade grandson.

"I like making friends," 12-year-old Liam said, sweetly.

Friendships that their typical teammates treasure too.

"I'll see them in the hall and it's super nice because I've never met them before. They're the sweetest kids and they have such bright smiles and they just make you feel so happy," said 8th grader Ling Silverstein.

"It makes my day to see them smile," Nikki Rao added.

And none of this could be possible without their coaches from the classroom.

"I'm so proud to be one of their teachers. The future is bright because of these kids behind me," said Jim O'Donnell.

And their biggest, loudest fans - on the court and off.

"My mom is the best mom ever!" Lucas cried loudly.

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