By MADDY VITALE
Eight years ago, parents of students enrolled in the Life Skills class at Ocean City High School went to educators and asked for more opportunities for their children of differing abilities to become involved in the school community.
Parents asked and quickly got the attention of Matt Carey, then the director of Special Education. He, along with special education teacher Lisa O’Neill, launched the Best Buddies Club.
And since then, under the current leadership of Patty Kelly, who acts as the club’s advisor, students have participated in a multitude of activities from basketball games to field trips, and all with their “Best Buddies.”
Members of the Best Buddies Club are students in the high school. The Best Buddies foster friendships between high school students with disabilities and their non-disabled peers.
Most recently, on Feb. 22, the Best Buddies Club played a basketball game against Egg Harbor Township High School’s United Sports Team.
Assistant High School Principal Wendy O’Neal said in an interview with OCNJDaily.com that the opportunity to play basketball with students from another school was a great experience for all involved, because during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic they could not do any gathering types of events.
“With the pause from COVID, we wanted to do something that goes beyond for the students because they were so very isolated for so long,” O’Neal said. “Once we got the go-ahead to play with other teams, Best Buddies Club members thought it was a phenomenal opportunity for both sets of students.”
Danielle Onelik, from Egg Harbor Township High School, contacted Kelly to ask if the Best Buddies Club in Ocean City High School would be interested in playing a basketball game against Egg Harbor Township High School’s United Sports team, school officials said.
Ocean City Schools Athletic Director Geoffrey Haines took the request for the game to Interim Schools Superintendent Dr. Tom Baruffi, who was in full support of the event.
Haines provided access to uniforms, videotaping and getting an official. In addition, cheerleaders who are a part of the Best Buddies Club organized the cheer squad to attend as well.
“It was just fantastic. Our cheerleaders cheered the students on,” O’Neal said. “Everyone enjoyed it. It was just a great opportunity.”
Over the years, the club has connected students who have walked the Boardwalk together, decorated classrooms, listened to music, watched movies, played basketball, celebrated holidays, and made gifts for each other, she noted.
O’Neal said that the Best Buddies Club provides a wonderful experience for members of the club as well as the students they pair up with. Kelly, the club’s advisor, helps pick the students that work best together.
“Best Buddies is a club that has been around for a long time,” O’Neal said. “It is a fantastic club. The students give back to the community and find a young person in the Life Skills class or with a disability and they enjoy activities together.”
For more information about the Best Buddies Club or for other information about Ocean City Schools, visit www.oceancityschools.org.