Special stars get chance to shine in Highlands Ranch

Unified basketball draws big numbers, smiles


Baylee Ginther’s nickname is the “Dancer.” And you can understand why if you’ve ever watched her run down the court after making a basket.

In the Unified basketball contest against Highlands Ranch High School on Jan. 30, the ThunderRidge freshman scored multiple times, got her name chanted by the Grizzly cheering section after scoring the first points of the game and even smashed a pie in her teacher’s face at halftime.

When asked what part was her favorite, the budding basketball star said, after some slight hesitation, “I loved everything, it was so exciting!”

Unified basketball gives special-needs kids a chance to shine in front of their peers, and at ThunderRidge High School during “Wish Week” they pack more people into the stands than they do for an average varsity basketball game.

“Once a year we get to play in the big gym,” said ThunderRidge teacher/coach Patty Kruz. “This is a big deal for us. We get a lot of support from the student body.”

Roughly 1,000 people came out to cheer on the two teams, which were assisted on the court by members of the ThunderRidge DECA team, who helped shag rebounds and hand the ball off to eager players chomping at the bit to take a shot at the basket.

In Unified, certain rules such as traveling and double dribble don’t apply, and it is likely the only brand of basketball where you will ever see a defensive player rebound a missed shot and hand it back to an offensive player and cheer for them to try again. It is also probably the only time you will see a wheelchair player race down the floor and dunk the ball into a trash can for two.

The feel-good affair featured quarter and halftime entertainment from the Mile High Tumblers, the TRHS pom team and cheerleaders, as well as four teachers who raised the most money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

The reward for the top-grossing teachers? A halftime pie in the face from the players.

There was also a halftime donation drive in which spectators chipped in $834.69 in one minute’s time to help send the school’s sponsored Make-A-Wish child, Malena, on a Disney Cruise.

And yes, score was also kept. ThunderRidge won 70-38. And every time the Grizzlies scored, Grayson “The Rockstar” Rhinehart could be seen running down the side of the court, pumping up the crowd.

“That’s my thing,” the junior said afterwards with a big smile on his face.

“It means everything to these kids,” said TRHS teacher/coach Susie Beck, who started the ThunderRidge Unified team 14 years ago. “They love being the stars of the show and walking down the halls and having everyone say hi to them and give them high-fives. This school, this student body is just incredible.”

Both Jordan Ochs and Oryb Mansour had big games for Highlands Ranch, showing unselfish play and a knack for being able to score with ease.


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