The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

First semester of Unified Sports course connects GV, local Transitions students

GVL | Alena Visnovsky

This fall, Grand Valley State University’s Department of Movement Science debuted a new class titled Unified Sports- FIT 180. The class, which is held twice a week in GVSU’s Recreation Center, brings in students from the Grandville Public Schools Region Three Transitional Program to play sports with GVSU students. The Transitional Program is built for young adults, over the age of 18, who are disabled or fall on the autism spectrum and aims to help students develop life skills such as cooking and finances. 

During the Team Sports course in the 2023 winter semester, Fitness, Skill and Activity Coordinator Karol Tiemersma brought the Unified Sports concept to class as a trial. After positive responses from the trial, the Unified Sports became part of the GVSU course catalog and is now run by Tiemersma and a fellow member of the faculty within the Movement Science department Dr. Colleen Lewis. Together, the GVSU professors and Grandville teachers collaborated to make the Unified Sports class run smoothly with both the college students and Transitions students.

During the class periods, the students from Grandville partner with GVSU students to learn how to play different sports under the instruction of Tiemersma and Lewis. Although Lewis has a long history of working with persons with disabilities, it wasn’t until this year that the idea for the Unified Sports class was born. 

“In many ways, it’s just like any FIT class that would center around sports- skill, knowledge, and participation together,” Tiemersma said. “I am careful about pacing and allowing all the good things we see happening, giving that a chance to build up. It’s been incredible to watch the progression of friendship.”

Throughout the semester, the students learn five different sports that are all part of Special Olympics tournaments across the nation, including cornhole to pickleball. They all get the chance to play on teams and referee tournaments, getting to know the sport inside and out. The class aims to inspire Transition students to explore opportunities such as Unified Sports or even pursue participation in their regional Special Olympics tournaments. 

You’re always a little worried that the students with disabilities are not gonna feel welcome; we’ve had absolutely no problems with that whatsoever,” Lewis said. “We want everyone to be included, and that’s really what this class is. Everyone plays, and you don’t get to sit out, you don’t get to say ‘I’m a little bit different, I can’t do this.’ We don’t use the word can’t, (we use) we do.”

Austin Clise, a freshman at GVSU, is enrolled in Unified Sports. Clise aims to have a career in pediatric physical therapy. For Clise, this class has provided the opportunity to work with all types of people in many different ways. 

“We’re learning inclusiveness. They’re not any different of people, it’s just learning fairness and inclusiveness,” Clise said. “There’s no negatives. You can’t pick out one thing that’s a bad thing about this class. It’s an all-around good class.”

GVSU senior Abigail Wadell, a speech and pathology student, found the class after looking for a course to fill one credit in her schedule.

“I’ve taken quite a few fitness classes before, and I came across unified sports. I know for a fact it had never been run before, so I was super intrigued. I read into it and I thought it fit perfectly with what I want to go into,” Wadell said. “I’ve always wanted to work with individuals with disabilities, and I felt like having that unified aspect would be really nice, just getting to learn and getting that experience interacting with this population.”

However, Unified Sports has provided so much more than that. For Wadell, it has brought back the team feeling she had missed since she participated in sports in high-school. She feels that in addition to the community of the course, the class is also fun and full of positivity.

“It’s a genuine class where everyone likes each other and wants to have a good time, so I feel like that’s what I’m taking away from here,” Wadell said. “Society kinda set these standards that they (persons with disabilities) shouldn’t be looked at the same as people who don’t have disabilities, so I feel like this class really solidifies that they are just human beings at the end of the day too.”

Tiemersma looks forward to teaching this course once again next fall. This class not only encourages interaction and camaraderie between students but gives them a chance to learn more about themselves through reflection and trying new things.

“I think that the Grand Valley students, on some level, might’ve been just as nervous as the Grandville students. Then they realized it’s not us and them, it’s more of we. I think that life skill is a really important life skill,” Tiemersma said. “It’s that skill of looking for people who aren’t engaged and inviting them in.”


More to Discover