Teens Learn Team Spirit and Inclusion with Clawson’s Unified Basketball Team

Teens Learn Team Spirit and Inclusion with Clawson’s Unified Basketball Team

(Drew Saunders, Jan. 29, 2020)

Clawson, MI – Clawson High School’s gymnasium roared with enthusiastic spectators for the inaugural Unified Basketball game last Friday, featuring teams that have members with intellectual disabilities along with those that don’t.

More than just a one day special event, the Unified sports program offers ongoing team building, practice, and competition.

Like any other high school game, Friday’s match was a back and forth between the two sides, consistently enthralling spectators with a tit for tat of scores and near misses. The Clawson Trojans scored the first basket, and won the game 33 to 25.

“[It was] fantastic,” Clawson High School Principal Billy Shellenbarger told the Oakland County Times after the game. “It was our first opportunity to get our kids out on the court in a real Unified game. It could not be more exciting than it was today.”

Shellenbarger said it took about a year to set up the game with Groose Pointe North, but he was happy with the result.  “I came from a school where we had it, at Northville High School,” he said.  “We have a great team of leadership kids who kind of took the ball and ran with it. … They did a great job.”

One of the players who got a big whooping applause when she scored her first basket was Clawson’s Amber Reynolds.  She said the game was “awesome” after going into the game a bit nervous, but it was exciting to get the first goal.

“I think it went amazing, I really do,” Amber’s Mom Kris said. “It’s just great that it has the inclusion part. It’s them with their peers, and I think that’s great.”

Groose Pointe North’s coach Drew Kisskalt said that he thought the game was “a complete success.”

“I am so fortunate to be a small part of this great opportunity for our students with special needs. I know we technically did not win but every one of my players scored at least one basket and they were smiling the entire game,” Kisskalt said.

Unified Sports is a program developed by Special Olympics that is “Dedicated to promoting social inclusion through shared sports training and competition experiences,” according to the Special Olympics website.

“Unified Sports joins people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team. It was inspired by a simple principle: training together and playing together is a quick path to friendship and understanding.

“In Unified Sports, teams are made up of people of similar age and ability, which makes practices more fun and games more challenging and exciting for all. Having sport in common is just one more way that preconceptions and false ideas are swept away.

“Our opponent is intolerance. Only shoulder-to-shoulder, as teammates together, can we defeat it.”

Clawson’s next game will be Wednesday, against another one of the six teams that make up the Macomb-based Unified Basketball League. Those who have an interest in learning more about Unified sports and how to set up teams can find more info at http://www.playunified.org.

 

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