By Steven Bieber
The University of Toledo Recreational Center hosted unified basketball games last week – pairing UT students and Special Olympics athletes for a basketball tournament.
The event is in partnership with the Lucas County Board of Developmental Disabilities and Special Olympics Ohio.
Mary Beth Olender, a Recreation Specialist with the Lucas County Board of Developmental Disabilities, said the goal of the unified games is for others to become more knowledgeable of people living with disabilities, as well as instill a sense of fulfillment in the athletes.
“The Lucas County Board of Disabilities has a goal of inclusion and they challenged us to be a community like everything else,” Olender said. “While Special Olympics is wonderful it does not allow them to be part of the community. What we love is that the University of Toledo has embraced unified. I hope that our guys learn that we are just like everybody else.”
Simon Baehr, a student participating in the event, said it means a lot to him to work with the Special Olympics athletes.
“There is a noticeable change in the way they work, the way they talk, it’s just great to see,” Baehr said. “It was great to see how much it matters to them, it is like the NBA Finals to them.”
David Mann, UT’s Coordinator of Intramural Sports, ran the event for the Rec Center. He said the partnership allows the Rec Center to reach out to the community and show its support for the Special Olympics.
“It allows us to bring the students on campus and have them experience what our intramural program is and let them be a student for a day,” Mann said. “When I started one of the first things that was talked about was our partnership with Special Olympics and we really enjoy taking our all-star team to the state and national tournament, hopefully.”
He said he would like to see more student participation and add different sports in the future.
The playoffs will be on March 2nd in Savage Arena. After the playoffs, the best players from each team will form an all-star team that will play in a regional tournament with the chance to play at the national tournament.