“You’re a boss, you own that gym!”

The Unified Basketball team in a huddle after their practice

Cara Montgomery

The Unified Basketball team in a huddle after their practice

Ava Cooke

With a minute left on the clock, seventh grader Arnez Higgins catches the ball. He sets up for a three-pointer and scores, leading his team to their victory and an undefeated season. Arnez is a player on the West Ottawa Middle School Unified Basketball Team who always wanted to be there, put in the time and effort to continuously improve, and was extremely encouraging to his teammates. The Unified Team had just recently started and was already making such a takeoff not only at West Ottawa but throughout the community as well.

   Arnez, now an eighth grader, was talking about his experience on the day of the Unified Team’s final game and he gave many great details. “You need to try and calculate where you want to shoot the three-pointer and you need to check where your hands are facing and your angle.” It was so fun to hear Arnez had a specific way of making his three-point shot. If you were involved with the team or watched them play, you would know exactly what shot he is talking about. It’s cool to know that even though the rules were relaxed, Arnez still plays with his full effort and gets engaged in the game.

   Something else Arnez consistently brought up about Unified Basketball was the friendships he has made because of the sport. “I think like seven of us boys played pool, watched movies, played chess and board games.” Many students have also become more inclusive and open-minded because of Unified Basketball and the LINKS program as a whole. This wouldn’t be the first time kids have brought their relationships out of the team and made closer connections outside of school. 

   Interventionist Cara Montgomery said she remembers the day she asked Arnez if joining the team would be something he would want to be a part of, “He looked me in the eyes and said ‘No way, everyone will talk trash about me.’ Considering the many accomplishments and friends Arnez has made on the team, you would never think this was his initial response to the question. “You’re a boss, you own that gym!” was what Montgomery said when talking to Higgins about his success. Arnez went out of his comfort zone to do something he was unsure about at first but it ended up making a huge impact on his life as well as so many other students. 

   Unified Sports truly are and have been making such a positive impact on students’ lives and many more around the community. Whether you participate or are just someone supporting from the stands, joy is promised to be included with Unified Basketball.