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Extending the sidelines

• Mar 14, 2018 at 1:00 PM

It would appear that now, more than ever, the need to emphasize inclusion and stigmatize bullying has never been more important in America’s schooling system.

That’s why the latest No More Sidelines events at Grand Haven, Spring Lake, Fruitport and Western Michigan Christian high schools are more important than any basketball game on their varsity squads’ schedules.

No More Sidelines is a non-profit organization that helps provide special-needs children and young adults with an opportunity to belong instead of being treated like outcasts. The goal of the organization is to integrate their members with the nearby community through events such as basketball and soccer games.

Through interaction with their peers, these children and their fellow students can gain a sense of how they are much more alike than they are different.

Since Feb. 5, each school has hosted their own event that brought together the boys and girls varsity basketball teams, special-education students from local schools, as well as local No More Sidelines participants.

At the Grand Haven basketball event, 20 Grand Haven-area special-education students and 12 local No More Sidelines participants enjoyed an hour of intensive drills, scrimmages and, most importantly, fun, with the members of the Buccaneer basketball programs.

For Jaime Oppenlander, the Grand Haven No More Sidelines liaison and a special-education teacher at White Pines Intermediate School, the event is just one way to promote inclusion and help young students believe in themselves.

“It’s my motto and belief that all kids can do everything,” she said. “In my classroom, we have a saying that ‘all kids can,’ and I think that translates to these sports-related events, too. Sports can provide an outlet for everybody at every level and it’s a common ground for these kids. It’s a relatable experience that brings them together with their peers.

“They really do enjoy participating in these events and hanging out with the varsity basketball players and the interactions that take place,” she continued. “Sometimes these kids get forgotten about, but events like this allow them to be included, and this is a way to build a more understanding community and more inclusive environment within our schools.”

Too often in our society, bullying emerges when a person or group of people fear someone who looks, talks or dresses differently than themselves. Those phobias can sometimes turn into hatred or violence. Any step toward nixing those phobias, especially within the younger generations of our community, is like planting a seed of tolerance in the minds of many.

No More Sidelines is doing its part to spread a message of acceptance, inclusion and love. With the continued support of volunteers, teachers, coaches and student-athletes, the Lakeshore community is quickly putting a full-court press on prejudices and intolerance.

And no one is riding the bench in this game.

Our Views reflects the majority opinion of the members of the Grand Haven Tribune editorial board: Kevin Hook, Matt DeYoung, Mark Brooky, Alex Doty, Josh VanDyke and Duncan MacLean. What do you think? E-mail us a letter to the editor to [email protected] or log-in to our website and leave a comment below.

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