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Unified

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I attended a high school basketball game last week that just may have restored my faith in the youth of America. See, I'd never heard of a "unified" basketball league, but they are essentially composed of a mix of kids with special needs and kids without them. The kids without special needs, many of them quite athletically talented, are the ones who primarily rebound, get the ball down the court and into the hands of a shooter, but they themselves are not allowed to shoot. Only the special needs kids can shoot the ball.

When the concept was explained to me prior to the game, it's the sort of thing you hear about and then worry you might cry when you see it in action. "Oh no," I was assured. "It's not like that." But it is like that. And I'm here to tell you that I could have cried at almost every moment of that game. Every time a girl in a wheelchair or boy with down syndrome put their arms up in celebration after making a shot. Every time the audience cheered at full volume when either team made a basket.

But what perhaps touched me the most was that these kids--the ones without special needs--were choosing to spend their time this way; to be on this team as opposed to one where they could have played to their full potential, showed no (or at least less) mercy, and perhaps gained some amount of notoriety around campus. Being on a high school campus at all reminded me of my own high school days, which, whether or not this fully came across in Schooled, I feel like I experienced in an almost constant state of selfishness. It's just the way teenagers are, I've rationalized. Only these kids weren't. And I was so impressed by their selflessness as they pushed wheelchairs and walked step for step with their more challenged teammates. I left feeling moved and inspired, and how many times do your interactions with teenagers have that effect? It's why I believe everyone who attends a unified league game knows instinctively that he has witnessed something truly special.

 

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