Project Unify brings students and SOMI athletes together in competition, friendship and understanding

For the seventh year, Project Unify will bring athletes with and without intellectual disabilities together at the Special Olympics Michigan Summer Games. 

By training and playing together, Project Unify displays the similarities between the two populations, teaching friendship and understanding. 

More than 300 students from around the state were bused to Mount Pleasant to participate alongside the Special Olympic athletes. The competitions include bocce and bowling.

Teams are made up of athletes of similar age and ability, which allows practice and competition to be more challenging, fair and fun.

Anne Rogers, the director of Unified Schools Initiatives, is going on her 15th year working with SOMI. She said she enjoys seeing the bonds athletes build together.

"Sports bring these athletes together and it gives them an opportunity to form friendships and build skills," she said. "Often we see our Special Olympic athletes even teaching the other athletes to perform better in the bocce or bowling events."

Kalamazoo Central High School is one of the many schools attending the summer games Project Unify events. 

Jill Rogowski, a teacher at Kalamazoo Central, said these events help her students become more communicative with people with disabilities.

"This program is special to us because it brings our students together," Rogowski said. "Our students get more confidence and aren't so afraid (to communicate). That's important to us."

Issaih Wesseling, a student at Kalamazoo Central says he and his partner are "striving for first place," in the bowling event.

Project Unify began nine years ago. Many states are starting to begin programs, but SOMI and CMU on the forefront of the movement, said Ann Guzdzial, SOMI chief program officer. 

Other competitions throughout the year include basketball, flag football, soccer, and kickball.