Prairie unified basketball highlights positivity, sportsmanship and inclusion


A basketball game of positive sportsmanship, helping others, smiles and more will be taking place in a big way at Prairie High School.

Unified basketball teams in the area will be competing in the district tournament on Saturday, Feb. 10 at Prairie High School. Unified basketball consists of athletes — those with intellectual disabilities — and partners — students without intellectual disabilities who help the athletes on the court.

“Our role as partners on the court is to just move the ball up and down the court, as well as assisting the athletes where they need to be on the court,” partner Grayson Allen said.

The Falcon athletes and partners have been practicing for the big day and have been enjoying every moment this season.

On the court, a team will have two athletes with two partners, coach Donna Eskelson-Smith said.

“What I enjoy most is giving the kids the opportunity to be able to show what they know, and there’s a lot of hidden talent throughout the team,” partner Owen Ziegler said. “Just them warming up to us is a big thing, and we’re a big family around here and spreading positivity is what we love to do.”

Athlete Elijah Ziolko said that he enjoys helping his opponents with great teamwork. As a team, the Falcons add to the unified basketball mission of inclusion by helping out other teams to make sure everyone is having a great time.

“We’re really just here to help spread the positivity more so than through our program but with the opposing teams. If we’re up by a lot, we’re a part of our program as much as we’re a part of theirs, and the whole unified family goes through every school that’s a part of it,” Ziegler said. “If one kid is having a down game on the other team, we’re there to help him. We’re there to make sure he scores, put a smile on his face and go home happy.”

Another goal of unified basketball is the players enjoying each other’s company and getting to know each other, Eskelson-Smith said. She added that she looks forward to the district tournament for the sportsmanship it brings every year for her athletes and everyone involved.

The district tournament starts at 8 a.m. and ends at 5 p.m. at Prairie High School with 21 area teams competing with a goal to reach the state tournament.