HOLLAND — A local high school student recently represented his school, state and country in the Unified Cup.
Teddy Hollebeek, a senior at Holland Christian High School, was a member of Team USA for the international competition. The event, which took place July 31-Aug. 5 in Detroit, involved teams from 24 countries competing in Unified Soccer. Team USA earned a bronze medal in Division 2.
Unified sports involve teams of general and special education students playing together on the same team. Special education students are referred to as athletes, while general education students are their partners.
“Overall it was a great experience to be able to be present as the athletes from around the country and even the world were able to be celebrated in an event like this,” Hollebeek wrote in an email to The Sentinel. “It was cool not just to represent Holland Christian and not just the whole state of Michigan, as I was the only participant from Michigan, but the country as well.”
The Unified Soccer team at Holland Christian High School has had an eventful past year. The team won the Michigan state championship in the fall — in just their second year of competition.
Shortly after winning state, the team was selected to represent Michigan in the Special Olympics. In June, the team traveled to Florida to compete and came home with bronze medals.
Hollebeek was initially approached about the World Cup team by special education teacher and Unified sports director Anne Pawlowski.
An athlete from the HCHS Unified team was interested in trying out and wanted someone to possibly do it with them. The soon-to-be senior said he agreed, but didn’t think much of it.
“After a few months of not hearing anything about it, I kind of disregarded it,” Hollebeek said. “But then I got an email from a leader of Special Olympics Michigan about how they still needed someone to be a part of it.”
Although the athlete he was planning to try out with was unable to participate, Hollebeek met with coaches of the team on a Zoom call to make up for a tryout that he missed. He received an email a few weeks later saying he had made the team.
Hollebeek said his favorite part of Unified Soccer is meeting new people and being part of something bigger than himself.
“Probably my favorite part of the Special Olympics is that you get to meet so many different people, from not just around the US but around the world,” he said. “I most enjoy the Special Olympics because it’s great for me to make playing in events like the Unified Cup not about me, not that I would have a good experience, not that I have a great trip to Detroit and play soccer, but that the athletes and people I’m playing against have a good experience. That is what is most important to me.”