Unsung Hero: MJHS Unified Partners

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By Ashley Smith
By Josue Orellana
By Brandon Merano

MARION -- A group of students from Marion Junior High School are lending their time to help those with developmental disabilities. They're helping through sports and companionship.

"It made me realize how quickly you can get something taken away in your life," said Abby Bayer.

Abby remembers a story her friend Michael told her about how he became intellectually disabled. Michael was playing baseball when he slid into another player's cleats. He suffered brain damage which changed his life forever.

Abby Bayer is a Unified Partner through Special Olympics at Marion Junior High School. Unified Partners are paired with a Special Olympics athlete to help them train and compete.

"It was kind of like an eye-opener," said Abby. "Like if you ever see a special-ed kid being bullied it hits home a little bit more."

Abby isn't the only one learning important lessons through this program.

I though it would be a really good opportunity to see how much they don't have, and for me, to realize that they don't have everything that I have and I need to appreciate what I do have," said Laney Olson.

Laney is one of the few seventh grade Unified Partners but plans to continue to help these athletes in future years. Some of those involved are surprised how much talent these athletes have been given.

"I think it's good because a lot of those kids are better athletes than the people that work with them," said Nathan Cook. "And there's boys that sit with us in lunch and they feel like they're accepted."

The junior high students say they've made friends with some classmates they wouldn't normally had had a chance to meet.

"They get excited knowing that they have friends outside of their classes and everyone's happy. They just have so much fun out there," said Kenady Lober.

Special Olympics coordinator Khara Kelly started this prograom in Marion four years ago and says she's happy with the success so far. The group has competed in basketball, bocce ball and the spring games.

She says her goal is simple: "That they realize that they're just kids too, and they want to have fun just like them, and they want to be accepted and participate just like them."

The group is preparing for a basketball skill set scheduled for Feb. 19 at the school.

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