Union Street Journal

The Unified experience: bringing people together

THE+UNION%3A+Andrew+Goodspeed+plays+basketball+with+the+writer+at+the+Unified+Valentine%E2%80%99s+Day+game.
THE UNION: Andrew Goodspeed plays basketball with the writer at the Unified Valentine’s Day game.

THE UNION: Andrew Goodspeed plays basketball with the writer at the Unified Valentine’s Day game.

Suzie Goodspeed

Suzie Goodspeed

THE UNION: Andrew Goodspeed plays basketball with the writer at the Unified Valentine’s Day game.

Ashley Miller, Staff Writer

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I’ll never forget the expression on his face when he saw me. His bright, inviting smile let me know he was genuinely happy to see me. He did not care what I was wearing. He did not care if I was good at basketball, nor did I care that he had Down Syndrome. All I saw was a boy who showed me what my life was missing.

It all started my sophomore year. I had just switched schools, that is when I met him.

I had never heard of it before, but I was eager to be a part of it.

It was Unified, seven letters that would mean more to me than I had ever expected.

The games were exciting. Each kid, no matter their disability, got a chance to play. It wasn’t about winning; it was about celebrating.

Celebrating that we got to take part of this. Celebrating our differences. Supporting each other.

Unified was founded by the Department of Special Education in 2008. Sponsored by Special Olympics, their vision is to use sports to promote inclusion by joining together people with and without disabilities.

Their mission has spread. Today there are more than 4,500 schools nationwide that offer these sports.

CCHS Unified which started in 2011, currently offers two: Unified Flag Football and Unified Basketball. Each year these programs grow. There are roughly 100 people who participate here in Unified.

While some kids may do this because it looks good on a college application, I do it because it means something to me.

It means spending time with someone who won’t judge you. Someone who won’t ask you to be anyone but yourself.

It means authenticity. It means laughter. It means love.

When I think of “special needs,” I think of someone who needs a little extra help; yet, we all need help in one way or another.

Kids with special needs are so effortlessly themselves. They never pretend to be something they are not.

From what I have experienced in working with youth who have special needs, they see life for what it is and have a tremendous capacity to appreciate the simple things in life.

Once at a game, the ILC student ran down the court after he made a basket. his index finger high in the air telling everyone he was number one.

To everyone else it just meant three more points, but to him it meant the world.

It is in those moments where I understand  how much it means to these kids.

It means overcoming obstacles and it means proving everyone who said they couldn’t do it wrong.

Spending time with him as well as other students in the ILC program has helped me develop more empathy for other people.

It has helped me look at life from different perspectives.

I will never forget the day when that boy spotted me amongst his teammates. He ran to me with open arms and exclaimed that he missed me. However, truth be told, I missed him more. I could have never had this relationship.

I am humbled that I could have missed this life lesson: working with kids with special needs has taught me to be more patient, more compassionate, and more understanding. They have already taught me more than I could ever teach them.

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