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SOMI Capitol Day: Unified Sports Brings Lansing Lawmakers Together

Athletes, Unified partners, coaches, and supporters appeal to legislators to increase Unified Champion Schools funding

The Capitol lawn in Lansing was alive with laughter and cheers this week, as Special Olympics Michigan (SOMI) athletes, Unified partners, and supporters invited lawmakers to participate in a sports exhibition following a morning of budget negotiations inside the state house. 

While the mood was light as dozens of legislators learned the skill behind the sports of bocce, soccer, and badminton, the message behind the games was powerful. 

“We are not just talking about sports,” said Bridget Ryley, Southeast Michigan Event & Sponsorship Coordinator for Special Olympics Michigan. “We are talking about leadership and engagement in our schools.” 

With budget negations in full swing in Lansing, speaking to lawmakers about the importance of the funding allocated for Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools (UCS) programming is vital - as the UCS program allows students throughout the state with and without intellectual disabilities (ID) to participate in sports on the same team

Despite overwhelming bipartisan support, UCS coaches, players, and SOMI staff members spent the day Thursday meeting with State Representatives and Senators from their home districts to and emphasize the power sports has to bring us together in the push to create a more unified world. 

“I see the impact,” said Senator Kevin Hertel of Michigan’s 12th District Michigan. “Unified Champion Schools has made me a better person, a better public figure, and has improved our district as a whole. Every school needs to be a Unified Champion School 

With nearly 450 Unified Champion Schools across the state, Special Olympics Michigan is hoping to expand to reach every county statewide in the next two years. The goal is to create more dynamic resources for students and teachers to create more opportunities for students to create inclusive atmospheres through increased Unified sports, Inclusive Youth Leadership, and whole-school Inclusion awareness activities. 

“When you walk into a Unified Champion School, you can feel it,” explained Tim Hileman, President & CEO of Special Olympics Michigan. “It’s hard to put into words, but the energy is there. That energy is inclusivity.” 

To implement and expand UCS programming, Special Olympics Michigan is requesting an additional $250,000 in funding from the state in 2024 fiscal year. The State of Michigan was one of the first – and remains one of the only – states nationwide to fund Unified Champion Schools programs. 

Photos from Special Olympics Michigan’s Capitol Day can be viewed here.