In late February, students from Zeeland (Michigan) Christian School and Baldwin Middle School in Hudsonville, Michigan, met up for the second of two basketball games between the inclusion students of the two schools.
Unified Sports is a program that brings together students in inclusion/special needs programs and students in traditional education programs for training and competition. On the court, teams consist of three athletes and two partners. Partners assist with dribbling, passing, and on-court coaching. Partners are not allowed to shoot unless pre-determined by the coaches.
Alaina, a sixth-grade athlete, said of the experience, “I can’t believe it! I scored a bunch of points!”
Heather Dannenberg, an inclusion aide at Zeeland Christian, heard about the Unified Sports program through her sister, who works for Hudsonville Public; Zeeland Christian inclusion teacher Brittany Van Byssum organized the event.
“It’s not easy putting something like this together” said Van Byssum, “but when you see smiles on the players' faces, hear the middle schoolers cheering and look over at the parents with tears in their eyes, you know all the effort put in was worth it.”
Zeeland Christian has been offering inclusive education since 1989, one of the first schools in North America to do so, and now has more than 75 inclusion students.
Stacy Deters, co-director of inclusion, said, “When parents choose this environment for their students, this is what they are hoping for: a place where each child has a purpose and is celebrated for who they are in Christ, not only during a basketball game, but each and every day.”