While I taught at St. Michael Indian School (SMIS), a school serving youth from the…
If you know me, you know that basketball is a huge part of my life. If you know me, you know its not because I play (because we all know that I am the un-athletic Rieker), but that it’s a family thing. I basically grew up in a gym—not pumping iron, but watching each of my siblings’ ball out, while never missing a game that my dad was coaching. This year, I have had the opportunity to experience this sport in a whole new way.
I was finally allowed on a basketball team—a Unified Special Olympics Basketball Team (of course there were no cuts). Unified Special Olympics is a combination of athletes, with intellectual disabilities and athletes without disabilities, playing on the same sports team. Our team consisted of 4 students, me, and 1 other teacher who happens to be one of my community members, Michael. This team rocks. No words can describe the joy this team has brought me.
Now, these games aren’t like the usual basketball games I have watched throughout my life. These rules may be bent, just a little, to accommodate for the disabilities and help the athletes succeed to the best of their individual abilities.
We all know that traveling is not allowed on the basketball court. But in Unified, when you are a 4 foot 8 inch spunky girl who is being guarded by a 6 foot 7 inch boy, the only way you may score is by yelling at him to move out of your way as you proceed to carry the ball around him and go to the basket to shoot. No whistle was blown, instead just loud laughs from the crowd and high-fives all around from both teams. Check out that magic!
As Michael and I guard the opposing team, it appears that we are the only ones playing defense. Oh not quite, our athletes rock at defense. They just don’t always make it down to the right side of the court. But don’t worry, they are standing there yelling with their hands waving—just from the other end. As the other team scores, we still have the biggest smiles on our face in happiness of their triumph.
A pass is coming to you, you should keep your eye on the ball and try and catch it, yeah? But it’s more fun to face the crowd, flex your muscles, and forget about the pass that is about to be made because mom and dad look at me: I’m playing a sport!
We also know that the main goal for any game is to win. Well, that doesn’t matter if you play on my team. Michael and I, look up at the scoreboard, and see we are down by 10. We do our best to help our athletes score, in hopes that we win. Seconds to go, we don’t get any more points, buzzer goes off, game over. We don’t win. We barely scored. We aren’t advancing in the tournament. When I watched from those bleachers back in the day, this would not have bene a good outcome. However, not on this team. We look at our team who just got “creamed” and they are screaming, jumping up and down, and yelling “We did it!” But, what did we do?
We may not have accomplished a win; however, we accomplished a lot more than that. Together, we ran up and down the court (or walked) with enormous smiles. We laughed together. We showed teamwork, not only to our own team, but also to each team we played. There was independence, every athlete was able to shoot and score. Most of all, there was joy in every incomplete pass, carried ball, and missed shot. So yes, “We did it!”
These athletes that I have had the honor to play with all have “disabilities” but I will be the first to tell you: they have much more than that. They have ambition, pride, and most of all teamwork. Isn’t this what we all should have? Isn’t this how every athlete should play? Isn’t this how every person should live?
Even when you may not ‘succeed’ conventionally, rejoice in all accomplishments, big or small, of yourself and others, for you will find harmony and bliss.
Abby Rieker: SMASE, St. Michaels, Arizona