BROWNSVILLE, Texas (ValleyCentral) — Brownsville ISD held its first Unified Interscholastic Area Basketball Tournament this afternoon at Rivera Early College High School, where six mixed-gender teams competed for the area championship title.

The Gladys Porter Early College High School Cowboys, who were named the winning team tonight, will compete at the regional level later this month.

The Unified Interscholastic League (U.I.L.) in partnership with Special Olympics Texas Rio Grande Valley kicked-off the first of its kind basketball season in November.

This has given Special Olympic athletes an opportunity to participate and compete in this U.I.L sport alongside regular education students.

Basketball athlete, Peter Vasquez, tells Valley Central, “In the beginning, I was like, ‘I don’t want to play basketball.’ But I got more into it. It’s really fun.” 

For Peter, this inclusive program has allowed him to discover a new passion.

“I be good at basketball,” he adds. “I pass the ball on my teams; they make some shots. And they pass me the ball and I make some shots.” 

The program has also allowed student athletes like Peter to gain more confidence off the court.

Melissa Vasquez, Peter’s mom, says, “He’s more social; something that he did not do at all. And now, he’s talking to more of his friends. I hear more names when he talks about his team. So I’m very proud that he’s actually doing something that he really likes.” 

The decision by Brownsville ISD to bring inclusivity into their sports program has helped create friendships and give students a sense of belonging within their schools.

“Don’t be shy,” says Peter. “You feel like you can’t do it, but you can do it. You have to believe in yourself and believe in your heart.”