HANCOCK, Mich. (WJMN) – The 3rd annual Unified Champion Basketball game was a matchup where the scoreboard didn’t matter in the gymnasium of Hancock Central High School. The game was all about cheers, smiles, and inclusion for all in a friendly game of basketball.

“We’re just out here to get the kids involved and get them the experience of being a part of a big sporting event and just getting them just involved in the community,” Kaisa Salani, a Unified Partner playing in the game said.

“The kids have asked about this game since it started two years ago, this is such a big event for them,” Maren Rouleau, a Special Education Teacher for Copper Country ISD said. “It really is their favorite thing.”

This is the third year Hancock has put on this game, as a unified school, their mission is to make everyone feels included.

“A lot of my students will go and support the other athletes at their games and they will play basketball in the gym, they’ll play after lunch but they never get that feeling of actually being on a team and having everyone cheering for them and so this is a big deal to them,” Rouleau said.

Whether the students are rookies to the sport or have years of experience, the game means more to everyone involved than just four quarters on the hardwood.

“I really like events like this because they don’t get to do things like organized sports and it’s a good opportunity for them to do that and enjoy a moment like this,” Vandan Jacques, a Unified Partner playing in the game said.

2022 Red and White Unified Basketball Teams

“I like to play basketball because it is a fun sport to play,” Kenny Ericson, a Special Olympics Athlete said.

“I like everything about playing basketball,” Kaitlyn Voldarski, a Special Olympics Athlete said.

“My favorite is shooting and passing,” Wade Cieslinski, a Special Olympics Athlete said. “To be honest with you, I really just like to have fun.”

The energy was contagious watching these athletes having the time of their life out on the court.

“To see the excitement and the pure joy in something, especially when they sometimes aren’t always the best at everything is amazing,” Rouleau said. “This is their moment to shine.”

“I absolutely love seeing the facial expressions from the kids,” Jacques said. “It always brightens my day and everyone else’s. I am happy that the community comes and supports them.”

“It’s so awesome with all the big crowds and then to see everyone coming out to support them and even them getting announced for starting lineups,” Salani said. “It’s just it’s a really good thing when you see the big smile on their faces when everyone cheers for them.”