Special Olympic students stand out in FHC’s Unify Basketball team

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Ashlyn Korpak, Staff Writer

For so many of us, our world revolves around the sports we play, whether it’s going to a basketball game or playing volleyball. But one team that stands out amongst all is FHC’s Unify Basketball team.

“It’s such an awesome thing, and you see all these families with all these kids, on the weekends,” Daane Spielmaker, one of the two coaches for the Special Olympics team and the schools Saftey Liasion, said “There are eight or twelve teams and the kids are running around hugging each other after the game. They’re cheering each other on; there are some competitive juices flowing but it’s really about happiness.”

Two years ago, FHC had enough kids to join Unify, a special olympics sports program. Steve Passinault, with his previous basketball experience and Spielmaker with his experience with the school special needs athletes, joined together to coach the team.

“I’ve been in this building for a while now, and I’ve gotten to know the athletes and the special needs kids over the years,” Spielmaker said. “It’s always been such a pleasure to talk to them, get to know them, and watch them develop over the years. So when Passinault and I were approached by Mr. Thomas to start a team here we said ‘Heck yeah- we’ll do it.’ It’s just been a blast.”

Passinault, before being FHC’s principal, was a basketball coach out of college in Florida, Kentucky, and finally in Grand Rapids. He then made the transition into being an administrator, but even with his previous basketball experience, coaching the Unify team is a new adventure.

“It’s obviously very different, but I really enjoy it,” Passinault said. “It’s fun seeing the growth of the players. Both from a basketball standpoint but more so with the teamwork and the skills that they like any of us learn through sports. These athletes learn just as much, and they love it and they really enjoy it. We have some competitive kids, but they’re having fun out there. They don’t get too stressed out about winning and losing.”

The regular-ed kids that are a part of the team are called partners. They are out on the court with the athletes to keep the game going. The partners were either picked by the coaches, or they came to Passinault and Spielmaker and asked to become a partner. Many of the boys had played basketball in previous years, but are not currently on the team.

“The Unify part has been really neat to see,” Passinault said. “It teaches the regular-ed kids a lot, too.”

It’s not all about basketball for these boys, though; it’s about the team too. The skills that come with being a part of a team and the sense of family a team gives.

“Being together on a team is actually the best thing because we help each other out and stuff. We help [each other] shoot some hoops,” player Christian Beckering said.

Unfortunately, it can’t be all about the fun.

“It’s hard to shoot from really close up,” Christian said. “And it’s actually hard to block someone’s shot because some of them are tall.”

Aside from the games that the team has on weekends, this year, they will be able to participate in a tournament at Western Michigan University. Although they were a team last year, they were not allowed to participate in the tournament because it was the team’s first year.

“This will be interesting because it will be new to all of us, but it will be fun. The kids are really looking forward to it,” Passinault said. “They were disappointed last year because as a first-year team, we couldn’t participate in the State tournament, so we kept telling them last year “Hey. Next year, we can participate.a�� They’re excited about it.”