The Sports Sitdown: Amanda Bacher and the role of unified sports

  • Samuel Habib (left) interviews Concord-area coach Amanda Bacher via Zoom. Read the full interview and watch the video at concordmonitor.com

  • Samuel Habib (right) competed in unified sports at Concord High with coach Amanda Bacher (back left), shown in this 2017 team photo. Samuel now attends NHTI. You’ll also notice Habib’s service dog, Proton, in the team photo and making a cameo in the Zoom session (above). Courtesy photos

For the Monitor
Published: 8/3/2020 9:49:16 AM

For over a decade, Amanda Bacher has been a fixture on the courts and fields of Concord. As the coach of unified basketball and soccer, Amanda helped usher in Concord High School’s unified sports program. Unified sports is an inclusive sports program that joins students with and without disabilities to train and compete as a team.

Aside from coaching unified sports, Amanda is the varsity girls lacrosse coach at Concord High School, works at NHTI in athletics and is a teacher assistant at Concord Hospital. She sat down for a virtual interview on June 17.

Samuel Habib: What is your position title and what are your main responsibilities?

Amanda Bacher: As you know, I love running around and working with kids. Gene Connolly told me back when I was in high school, ‘Amanda you need to get into education. You need to work with kids.’ Back then, I said no. I didn’t think so, but here we are about 10 years later. I have to go back to school to become a teacher. Right now, I’m a teacher assistant at Concord Hospital and I float from all over different classrooms. For coaching, I’m the head coach for unified basketball and I’m the head coach for girls lacrosse at Concord High School.

Samuel: What is your favorite part of being a unified coach?

Amanda: I started working at Concord High back when I was probably 20 years old. I started and Mr. Mello came to me one day and said, ‘Hey do you want to start a unified basketball team?’ At that point, I was working full-time in special ed and I said absolutely. I think that would be amazing because to me it was important to see you guys not only in the classroom but having fun doing things that everybody else was doing. That was huge for me. Ten to 11 years ago, Mr. Mello and I just put our heads together and said this is what we want to do. We want to have a team, we want to have a basketball team and I had 15 kids on our team. It was huge. It was pretty big for a basketball team. It was amazing and we didn’t win much but we had so much fun and to see my kids that I work with in the classroom, to see them having fun at an after school activity playing basketball. It was my absolute favorite thing that I ever could have done. I’m sad that I can’t coach that anymore just because of my schedule but I’m happy that we are able to have building blocks. Hopefully somebody else can take that over because I think it’s really important for everybody in the special education program to be able to experience the same things that everyone else is experiencing. You guys love to play sports. You guys love to interact with peers. But it’s so important for you guys to have that outlet and that’s been my absolute favorite thing to watch you guys grow as individuals, as teammates, as students and to be able towatch you guys do that and watch you guys on the field or court.

Samuel: What kind of challenges do you experience at work?

Amanda: I will say some of the hardest aspects I’ve had are when some of my kids get frustrated because they have a hard time expressing how they’re feeling or what they need or what they want. Sometimes they don’t understand why when we’re playing basketball, someone else stole the ball from them and it is tough for me to see that happen and see them get upset because I don’t want anyone to be upset. I want everyone to have fun but at the same time that part of sports is competition. So we try to grow from that. I try to explain that’s okay, that’s what happens but that initial upset that I see in kids is hard for me because I go into this just trying to have fun with you guys so you can enjoy yourself and help you guys understand what competition is. It’s just trying to overcome those obstacles. This is how this game is supposed to be played. It’s okay that they stole the ball from you. That’s what happens and you go back, you play defense and you get it right back.

Samuel: How has COVID-19 impacted your life?

Amanda: So, in respect to COVID, it was good for us because unlike a few other winter sports teams, the unified basketball team was able to finish our season. We have two different leagues. There is a recreation league and there’s like a competitive league which actually goes to the tournament. I didn’t really like going to the tournament because a lot of other teams didn’t have the same goals as we did, which was wanting my athletes to do all the work and the partners were just there to help them and aid them. So we actually went undefeated this season which was amazing. I mean the kids loved it and we did it for the tournament because the recreation league doesn’t have a tournament. So we just barely escaped COVID by a month because we finished in February. However, my lacrosse season, which isn’t unified, we started our winter workouts in February. You’re only able to have a few (practices) before COVID shut everything down and then I was having meetings with my girls on Zoom. Which I can tell you right now, I had no idea what Zoom was before COVID-19. So this is brand new to me trying to get through. We weren’t sure at some point, were we gonna have a season? Should we be working out you know? Obviously I told my girls to stay positive, to work out but then things started to snowball, things started to get worse and we weren’t going back to school.

So it was hard for my seniors. I had four seniors on my team this year. It was going to be my second year. I wasn’t able to have that but thankfully we were able to get in our unified winter season.

Samuel: What were some things you were not prepared for once COVID-19 started impacting your work and life?

Amanda: I definitely was not prepared to be meeting with my girls over a computer. A lot of them were incoming freshmen and we had never met before. Having the first time meeting online was incredibly hard. I didn’t even know some of these girls’ names. Thankfully it’s in the bottom left corner or else it really would have been tough. It was very tough because I want these girls to come back to play again next year and to try out as I try to build this program.

I had to reassure them that we eventually will come out of this situation. Nobody’s really sure how long it’s going to take but we will come out, you guys need to stay positive, continue doing your schoolwork, which I can’t imagine having to have classes strictly online when you’re used to going to see your friends. I can’t even imagine what that’s like. So, I try to keep them positive. I tried to tell them it’s gonna be okay, we will all get through this and try to be there for them. I said if you guys ever need me please reach out, call me, Zoom, whatever you guys need. So it’s been tough.

Samuel: What did a typical workday look like for you before COVID-19?

Amanda: Well before COVID happened, I would go to work my full-time job. During that full-time job, at some point, I would make a practice plan, I would explain what we need to do in a game situation. For unified basketball, you have practices during the school day, which had COVID come a little bit sooner, we would not have been able to do that. Then we would have practice from 5 to 7 every night. I go from work, go home for a little bit, then I’d go to practice. It’s tough for me to change that part of life when I get home from work and I don’t have practice to go to, I don’t have a game to go to. I will say it made scheduling a little bit easier for my job because before I started, I had to send in my entire practice schedule. I had to send in my game schedule so I could make sure each day I was out at the right time to be able to catch the bus for a game or make sure I got to practice because we’re open till 6. So, for practicing till 5, I would need to make sure that I’m out of work in time. Now, I don’t worry about that but at the same time, I wish I had to worry about that. I wish I had practice to go to. I wish I had a game to go to. I’m hopeful next year things will get back to normal.

Samuel: What does your workday look like now during COVID-19?

Amanda: I get up in the morning and I go to work. I’m not writing out practice plans and I’m not making up game plans for the day. I’m not going to Cimos to pick up our subs for our games. It’s very different. I’m thankful that I’m at least going to work because a lot of people at this point are not and haven’t been for months at this point but I’m going to work, I’m coming home and that’s it. It’s been a little strange and it’s been strange not watching sports on TV which I’m sure you can attest to as I know you love the Red Sox. So my workday definitely shortened. I can tell you that much.

Samuel: How has the shutdown impacted athletics at NHTI?

Amanda: As you know, I work at NHTI. Well, I won’t be able to anymore going forward just because of my work schedule at the hospital, but in the spring, I was still gonna try to work there but we had no baseball games. We had no softball games and I think we pulled the plug earlier than some in canceling sports. Kids and coaches and staff were kind of surprised to see that we canceled the seasons. First softball and then it was baseball. That is normally another job I would be going to for at least a few hours in the afternoon. The athletic trainer at NHTI wasn’t sure what she was going to do because she knew once the sports got canceled, she wasn’t going to be needed. It was a very interesting time back when this all started and NHTI decided to cancel their seasons. That took some getting used to. Not being on campus anymore, not seeing the kids anymore, everything shut down pretty early.

Samuel: What is the worst part of COVID-19 for you?

Amanda: First I’ll tell you a joke I’ve been saying throughout this entire thing. The worst part of COVID-19 is knowing people are adopting kittens and puppies and I can’t go see them. It’s been tough for me, Sammy. You know I love to go see the new animals that people have. Mrs. Maya actually just got some baby chicks and I’d love to go see him but COVID-19 is not allowing me to do any of that stuff. Seriously, probably the worst part of this has been watching my seniors. My senior kids not finishing their sports teams seasons and it all started back in the winter  when girls ice hockey and boys ice hockey didn’t get to finish their seasons. Knowing how hard all these kids have worked all season and knowing that they get to the championship and that they couldn’t play was hard for me to see. I was thinking about how I would feel, working with my teammates and went through a whole season, worked really hard, put my heart and soul into it and then couldn’t finish, I just can’t even imagine that feeling. That was hard for me to see. I felt terrible for these seniors that all the way back to the winter have had their worlds kind of turned upside down and they not only didn’t get to finish their winter season but then couldn’t finish out their spring season.

Samuel: Have there been any positive changes in your life due to COVID-19?

Amanda: I’m actually supposed to be in Mexico right now, Sammy. Because of COVID-19, I’m not. However, the positive that came out of that was my boyfriend and I actually just bought a piece of land, which we never would have done if we would have been spending our money in Mexico. Because of COVID-19 there was a woman who bought some property back a few months ago, she cleared it, put a driveway in, was getting ready to build her house and then her employer said you know, never mind you can work from home from here on out and so she decided she didn’t want to live in New Hampshire anymore. After only a few months of owning that property and doing all that work, put it back on the market and we actually ended up buying it. We plan on building a house in the next year so that’s the one positive thing I’ve seen that has come out of COVID-19. The other positive thing I’ve seen is that a lot of high school kids have persevered through a time where we’ve never experienced before. They’ve been told they need to stay home, they need to eat lunch at home, they need to do their classes at home, they need to workout themselves and it’s been tough but they’ve done it and they’ve come out on the other side. They’ve graduated or they’ve moved on to the next grade. It hasn’t been easy and I’m sure there’s a little bit of complaining but they all figured out a different way to live and they figured out how to do their work from home. They learned how to basically get by when they’re living in a time where it is completely different than what they’re used to. To see kids adapt to that and to see them successfully navigate through this time has been amazing to watch.

Samuel: Can you explain what unified sports are?

Amanda: Unified sports teams are comprised of athletes and partners. Athletes are our special education students. Partners are our other students in the building that aren’t in season at that time. The best thing about it is that those two come together. Those two people come together and other times they might not have known each other. They both learn to play with each other. They learn to communicate, they learn how to be a good teammate and I think that has been so important for Concord High to see those two worlds collide. Basketball is exactly the same. It’s five people on the floor, five kids on the floor at a time, three athletes and two partners. Soccer, I believe, is four athletes and three partners. The essence is that our special education students finally get to play the sports and do the things they deserve to do and do the things they’ve been watching their peers do for their entire lives.

Samuel: What were your main responsibilities as unified sports coach?

Amanda: My main responsibilities were making sure everyone was safe, making sure everyone had the proper gear. For soccer there are socks, shin guards, which wasn’t always easy. Shoes, uniforms, water, mouth guards, just to make sure we were properly outfitted. To make sure practices were held at least twice a week and then just to make sure during games we had fun. Make sure everybody got in and everybody is having a good time. Everybody understood why we were there. I always had you know an assistant or two that helped out with anything else we needed, whether we had a cutter or something else, they would help out with that. My main responsibilities were just making sure you guys were having fun and we got to our games and we knew what we were doing, like running the right way sometimes. We sometimes had trouble with that.

Samuel: How was your time as the unified sports coach at Concord High?

Amanda: I absolutely loved it. Probably one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life. Just to have that experience and to try it. Just to go into something I’ve never done. I played sports myself but to go into coaching was amazing. It opened my eyes to just the diverse people you are. You guys aren’t just students. You guys don’t just sit in classrooms in the basement. You guys go to every single different class you have. You guys go to sports games, you guys play and it was amazing to see. That was the absolute best part for me was watching you guys come together as a team and play.

Samuel: What was your most memorable moment as a coach?

Amanda: Okay, I have two. My first one is when we would have our home basketball games and the entire place was absolutely packed with fans and Dave Bonner came and sat in the stands and cried because it was so awesome. I’ll never forget that for as long as I live. The City of Concord came together and watched you guys play and were so moved by it that Dave Bonner cried. That’s amazing to me. I honestly don’t think there have been that many people in the gym for a basketball game since his son played, since Matt played, so to see that was amazing. My second is when we started playing pep rallies and seeing all of your peers that were cheering you guys on. That was amazing for me.

Samuel: What was your favorite part of being a coach?

Amanda: My favorite part was hanging out with you guys. I love you guys. To have you guys in the classroom and have you guys on the court was so much fun. When I wasn’t working at Concord, when I wasn’t subbing at Concord High anymore, just to still have that connection with you guys was the absolute best part for me. I loved it.

Samuel: What are the important qualities for a unified coach?

Amanda: I would say the most important quality is patience because there are gonna be times when you know someone doesn’t want to do something or they sit down on the floor. They don’t want to get up and dribble or they don’t want to go into the game or come out of the game. I’ve had that happen and just have some patience and having a little sense of humor goes a long way. Also, to have some understanding that you guys are having the time of your lives and it might not be as fast as some other things, like some of the varsity sports games, but this is for you guys and it is fun as long as you make it fun. Definitely patience and just understanding of the fact that you guys have waited so long to be included and the fact that this took so long is unfortunate but the fact that we finally got there is amazing. Have a sense of humor because you guys are funny.

Samuel: How do you think COVID-19 will impact unified sports moving forward?

Amanda: I think as long as we’re going back to school in the fall, we will be having unified sports because all of our other sports will be back into the swing of things. I’ve actually been seeing that Little League baseball just started playing in Concord and dance I’ve heard is back. So, I think we’re gonna be okay, I think we’re gonna get there. It’s just getting everyone to school and keeping them safe. That’s going to be the tough thing, so whether we have soccer and a basketball season this year, I’m still not sure but I think as long as we’re in school we’re gonna have a unified team.

Samuel: Do you think Unified Sports will be able to adapt to certain health guidelines if COVID-19 continues long term?

Amanda: I think the biggest thing would be not having as many kids on the floor or on the field. I think we’d be able to adapt to that. It would be tough because for basketball, we still have the same amount of people, five on the floor. We might have to decrease the amount of people on the court, or we might have to decrease practices, or split practices where one group goes at this time and the next group goes at that time. I think just like any other sports team, unified would be able to adapt. It would be challenging but I think it would be doable.

Samuel Habib is a college student at NHTI. Samuel is an avid sports fan that currently lives in Concord. He played unified sports for coach Amanda Balcher.


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