Respect week, which is being observed this week at Brighton High School, will be climaxed tonight with the Brighton Unified game at the high school field house.

A large crowd is expected to be on hand for the game - an intrasquad scrimmage pairing the Orange vs. the Black squads. The game, which is free to the public, starts at 7 p.m. Brighton Unified involves both regular students and special needs students who play on the same team.

According to coordinator Jody Renicker, during Respect Week, the 2,100-student school focuses on respect for all individuals, and not just those with special needs. However, placing a high value on students who might be classified as “different” is a major reason why Brighton High School was one of the top 5 schools in the nation - and the only one from Michigan - awarded by the ESPN sports network last fall for its inclusion of all students, including those with special needs, in the overall school program. To win the award, the school must have a Special Olympics Unified Sports program, an inclusive youth leadership and engage the entire school in the program and its goals.

The Brighton Unified squads play three sports: flag football, basketball and bocce ball, and won the state Special Olympics Unified basketball championship last weekend at Western Michigan University. Superintendent Greg Gray says the camaraderie between team members — who may be very different in some ways — is evident at the games. According to Renicker, a giant Respect banner has been hanging in the cafeteria this week, and students have been invited to sign it and take the pledge to “replace fear of differences with the power of inclusion.” The banner will also be in the field house tonight for anyone — adult or student — who wants to sign it. Respect bracelets and stickers will also be passed out. Renicker adds that special activities have been taking place this week, including painting windows with Respect slogans.

Renicker says, “It’s become cool to be kind, cool to include others.” She also says the example shown by Darian Locklear, a student leader known for her kindness to everyone, including those who felt rejected or left out, has been a positive force at the high school. Locklear was tragically killed a year ago in an accident that took her life and that of a Howell teen on their way to hockey practice. Renicker says, “People are talking constantly about (Darian’s) kindness, so as an ambassador for kindness, I can’t think of a better legacy.” (TT)