By Mark Ambrogi
For Abby Abel, bringing a unified basketball tournament to Purdue University seemed like the perfect plan.
Special Olympics Unified Sports is an initiative that pairs people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team to compete. Abel, a 2015 Carmel High School graduate and Purdue freshman women’s basketball player, and Mitch Bonar, a Special Olympics Indiana athlete and 2015 Noblesville High School graduate, came up with the idea at the end of their senior year.
“We wanted to bring together an event that would combine Special Olympic athletes and athletes at a college,” said Abel, who has become good friends with Bonar through their work in Champions Together, a collaboration of Special Olympics and the Indiana High School Athletic Association.
The basketball tournament was held at Purdue’s Mackey Arena April 24. Abel began planning for it in the fall, then put it on hold until mid-March.
“When the season hit, I put it on hold because the season kind of consumes your life,” said Abel, an invited walk-on who played in three games as a freshman. “Then we got out of the NCAA tournament, and we picked it back up again.”
Abel and Bonar were the first Special Olympics Global Ambassadors ever selected from Indiana and attended the GEN-Uin Social Impact Summit at the 2015 Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles in July. Abel was involved with Special Olympics and IHSAA unified track program at CHS.
Abel’s fellow CHS graduate Ryan Cline, who plays on Purdue’s men’s basketball team, helped with the tournament. So did all the members of the women’s basketball team and a couple of Purdue football players. There were at least two Special Olympic athletes and two Purdue students to form a Unified team with the four-on-four basketball games.
“It was fun to see everyone interact,” Abel said.
Abel’s twin brother Greg, a Guerin Catholic graduate, and his Theta Chi fraternity brothers participated and encouraged other fraternities to take part.
“We wanted to let everyone know what Unified is all about because a lot of people aren’t familiar with Special Olympics athletes combining with students,” Abel said.
Abel’s said his goal is to get the unified program into Purdue’s intramural system, setting up games and leagues.
“We’re hoping it becomes well-established on campus,” Abel said “Then it can spread throughout the Big Ten. In the SEC, they do flag football (as a unified tournament).”