On a chilly night in January, the Oakland Recreation Center held an event that could have warmed up the hearts of all on campus.
The Unified Basketball League — which offers Oakland students the opportunity to compete alongside Special Olympics athletes — held its assessment day on Jan. 20. Participants delighted as they geared up to play.
Unified Basketball allows Oakland students to get involved without feeling the pressure of intense competition. The league focuses more on the fundamentals of the game, bringing back the care-free attitude towards winning that makes for a less stressful and more enticing time.
“It takes [basketball] back to making sure that you are having fun, being out there for the right reasons and learning things and how others see things,” coach Gabrielle Sokol said. “It is eye opening for the participants and the students.”
This is Oakland’s second year hosting the Unified Basketball League, which started at Central Michigan University. The leaders of the program at Oakland are planning to expand their reach to other sports, including soccer.
Although the participants are hesitant on the first day, they quickly move into fits of laughter as they make friends and work together.
The Director of Unified Sports Initiatives at Special Olympics Michigan, Dan Ekonen, shares the happiness the athletes gain out of the tournament.
“You can see the competition, you see the friendships form and then at the end of the year they are all having a good time and no one wants to leave,” Ekonen said. “That is what this is all about: when you see those friendships out on the court and off.”
The first Unified Basketball game will be at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 27 on courts two and three in the Rec Center.