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Troy Stiner poses after last year’s Disability Awareness Basketball Game with his daughter, Lila. Stiner wore No. 33.1 during the game to represent Lila’s affected gene. The partial duplication of that gene resulted in a rare chromosomal defect which causes developmental delays, such as speech delays (or no speech in many cases), mental disability, and feeding difficulties among others.

For more than 15 years, Bona Vista Programs has been putting on a Disability Awareness Basketball Game during the month of March. When I think about the number of local celebrities and Bona Vista All-Stars that have played or coached in those games over the years, I can’t help but get a little emotional. They all have a story. They all have a reason for participating. Somehow or in some small way, Bona Vista Programs has been a part of their life enough to make them want to hit the court in an effort to raise awareness for those with disabilities. That’s powerful.

I didn’t ask any of the players if I could share their stories in my article. I’ll ask forgiveness later (although I don’t think they will have a problem with me doing so). When I think of Troy Stiner, his connection to Bona Vista Programs is evident. His daughter, Lila, is a Keys for Kids Preschool graduate. She’s now in K-12 school and thriving, not only because of the foundation she received in preschool but also because her parents are so involved in her care and advocated on her behalf to make sure she received all the therapies she could get.

For those of you who have never met her, Lila was non-verbal when she starting receiving services at Bona Vista. Now, she can say lots of words using her electronic communication device and some words orally! Imagine hearing “mom” for the first time when your child is 7 years old when you never thought you’d ever hear it. Heart melt. Not only that, but she’s also included in her class, and she’s a game changer. We love hearing success stories of our students and their families. We appreciate the fact that sometimes they come back and try to change the game for Bona Vista by advocating on our behalf, sharing their stories, or even trying to raise some funds while playing a basketball game.

Another person I think of is Shelly Wyman. Shelly is a Bona Vista Board of Directors member. Traditionally when you think of an organization’s Board members or if you know what Shelly does in her professional life (real estate), you may not think she’d sign up to play in a basketball game. However, Shelly asked us! We didn’t even beg. She called me after last year’s game and said, “I would love to play in that game if there’s ever a spot available.” I didn’t even know she played! Well, come to find out, Shelly was the MVP on her basketball team in high school! Who knew? But, she also loves Bona Vista, our mission, and those we serve. She’s set out to make our organization the best it can be, and if that means lacing up the basketball shoes one more time and being a rookie on the team, then that’s what she will do.

Everyone has a story. And, that’s what this game is really all about. If you’ve never been, what you’ll see is a team of local celebrities take on a team of Bona Vista All-Stars in four quarters of intense basketball. Our All-Star team, coached by Carver Center’s Executive Director Donta Rogers, is made up of adults we have served or who we currently serve in some way. Some of them play Special Olympics basketball (and could out run or score on me any day of the week – and I am not ashamed of that). They are good! And, they make me so proud.

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However, they all have a story, too. Some have played for many years. They’ve overcome their “disability” to show people their “ability” instead. They may not see the best. They may not be able to dribble the best. They may not be the fastest player on their team. But, they don’t care. They’ve come so far in their lives to show people what they can do verses what they can’t do. And, that’s the focus. Sure, everyone likes to win, right? So the game can get competitive. But, the goal is to show the community that people with different abilities can still be included in the same activities as everyone else. They may have to adapt, but they will! They want to be included. They are a part of this community. They can do it!

If you want to see with your own eyes what these All-Stars (and celebrities) can do, we would love to have you come hang out in the stands and watch. The game will take place at 5:30 p.m. at Kokomo’s Memorial Gym on Tuesday, March 20. And, it’s totally free to get in! We will start with a proclamation by Mayor Greg Goodnight, the singing of our National Anthem by Kim Sprinkle, and then our refs (led by Coca-Cola’s Tim Knowland) will get the game started. We are so thankful to the numerous volunteers, Bona Vista staff and community sponsors that make this event possible.

Oh, and if you know students who would want to come fill up the cheer block, tell them to wear tie-dye! We will be selling our Bona Vista tie-dye T-shirts at the event if you don’t already have one, but wear yours if you do! We would love to show the All-Star team that we are behind them by drawing a huge, supportive crowd. Help us spread the word!

See you on Tuesday, March 20! If you have any questions ahead of time, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at 765-457-8273 ext. 335 or abrantley@bonavista.org.