Unified Sports program thriving Downriver for athletes with special gifts

‘Watching them play and socialize together is the most rewarding thing’

A new sports program is emerging between a few Downriver districts called Unified Sports, which is part of the Special Olympics.

During the school year, athletes with disabilities from Allen Park, Woodhaven, Wyandotte, Gibraltar and Lincoln Park are bowling, playing bocce ball and, currently, basketball.

The varsity boys match-up between Allen Park and Lincoln Park occurred Tuesday, Dec. 13, but that won’t be the most memorable game of the night for many in attendance.

Stella Boyer runs the Unified Sports program at Allen Park in partnership with the Special Olympics, and what she’s done in less than a year is impressive.

“I started with four athletes last year, and we have 17 altogether this year,” Boyer said.

The program hasn’t just added more intellectually-challenged athletes, but also more student partners who help them, as well as four more school districts with whom to compete.

“Watching them play and socialize together is the most rewarding thing,” Boyer said.

“Drake, he loves it,” said father Donald Bryans. “He likes being on a team.”

Bryans’ son Drake has autism, but is high-functioning. Playing basketball and going bowling have done wonders for him.

“It’s really hard for him to socially interact,” Bryans said. “Every year, there’s like a little bit of enlightenment from all this social interaction.”

Drake Bryans and his team took on Lincoln Park Tuesday night. The players’ reactions and what it means to the partners helping are everything.

“I really enjoy being with these kids and like helping,” Jenna Gasiorek said.

“It helps them feel like they’re a person,” said Corryn Cooper. “They’re just like anybody else.”

“You see in our student section out there that there was a decent amount of people,” said Cooper Brown. “They were all supporting them, and they loved it.”

“I feel like they’re my family in a way, because they treat me like I’m somebody to them, and I want to treat them the same way,” said Kylee Helka.

“I like the way they make me happy and how they hype me up and stuff,” said Madelyn Neville. “We all just kind of come together when we’re on the court.”

About the Authors:

Jason anchors Local 4's 5:30 p.m. newscast. He joined WDIV in January 2015 as a general assignment reporter and has a Journalism degree from Michigan State University.

Brandon Carr is a digital content producer for ClickOnDetroit and has been with WDIV Local 4 since November 2021. Brandon is the 2015 Solomon Kinloch Humanitarian award recipient for Community Service.