A unique Hartland High School basketball team put up a good fight on the court last night, but team members and the coach say the final score may be the least important aspect of the game.

Around 150 band students volunteered to play at the Hartland Unified Basketball game, which also included performances by the high school’s drumline and pom team. With support from the student body and community, the entertainment and large crowd made the game appear the same as a varsity game, which team leaders say is the point.

Hartland Unified Basketball is in its first year and is comprised of roughly 16 players that are a mix of students with and without disabilities. Unified Sports is the result of a partnership between Special Olympics Michigan and the Michigan High School Athletic Association. The goal is to bring general education and special needs students together to build meaningful friendships in an inclusive environment.

Hartland’s team started in the high school’s 2nd hour peer-to-peer course and has grown from there.18-year-old Jake Gallagher is a senior at Hartland and a member of their Unified Basketball team. Gallagher says he enjoys working with his teammates on and off the court, adding that his goal is to make them smile every day. Gallagher says his dream job is to work with children with disabilities and that he loves seeing their joy.

High school Assistant Principal and Hartland Unified Coach Jason Reck says the camaraderie among team members is what makes the game so special. The basketball games are still competitive, but cheering for both teams is what creates the positive vibes between players. Hartland Unified went up against Northville’s Unified team, though they lost 28 to 30. However Reck believes the score doesn’t matter, noting that he has been an athlete his whole life, a coach, and an athletic director. Yet he feels the Unified team’s games are just as important as the state championships he’s won or has led teams to.

Even with a loss, Reck says he doesn’t think he’s ever smiled that big leaving the gym. Reck says it is the team’s encouraging nature of inclusion and unity that makes “everyone wearing a Hartland H proud of what they’re doing.”