Lighting the Torch for Western Unified Basketball

Earlier this Spring, in March 2024, the Western Unified Intramural Basketball Program hosted the Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR) in London in a fun-filled morning of basketball.

The LETR is the largest fundraising organization for the Special Olympics movement worldwide, having raised over one billion dollars. They are also the largest global public awareness vehicle for Special Olympics as they champion inclusion and acceptance, which aligns very well with Unified Sports.

Unified Sports are an initiative from Special Olympics which aims to combine those with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team working towards a common goal. It has taken the world by storm and is one of the fastest growing Special Olympics programs.

Unified Basketball was first introduced at Western in 2018 as an intramural sport for all Western students and Special Olympics athletes in the London region. They play weekly games each Sunday during the fall and winter semesters at the Western Student Recreation Centre.

Western University is one of the leading Canadian institutions in Unified Sports, home to  an intramural program that has over 30 participants year-round. In 2019, Western Unified won bronze in basketball at the Special Olympics Invitational Youth Games, an international competition held in Toronto, Ontario. Western competed against other collegiate institutions including McMaster, Wilfrid Laurier, Ontario Tech, Mohawk and the University of Toronto.

In addition, Western Unified has organized other promotional events, including playing in a half-time game during one of the Western Mustangs Women's basketball varsity games this past season and hosting local one-day tournaments.

Special Olympics athlete and Unified participant, Valerie Nyhout, has been participating in Unified Basketball at Western since its inception. “I love talking to the Partners [students] at the beginning when we are doing warm-ups. Everyone is so friendly and we all talk about what we have been doing all week. I love playing basketball and the Partners have helped me be a better player. I really love Unified”, said Valerie.

“Our daughter, Val, has been involved in Unified since it began at Western. It is such a positive environment and from a spectator's point of view, it has been incredibly fun watching the comradery between the Unified partners and the Special Olympics athletes”, said Kris and David Nyhout, Valerie’s parents.


“There have been many benefits for Val with her involvement in Unified: her basketball skills have improved, her confidence has grown and most importantly, she has developed friendships with the Unified partners. Hitting the court with the Unified partners and her fellow athletes is a highlight of her week”, added Kris and David.


“As a PhD student whose research looks at physical activity and health in people with intellectual disabilities, I have seen the benefits of Unified Sports first-hand. From the research side of things, whether you have a disability or not, physical activity is so good for our physical, social and mental health. Since I've been a part of Unified Basketball, I’ve experienced those benefits myself”, said Marcus Nandu.

“Playing in Unified Sports is such an amazing initiative! It’s a little different than conventional intramurals, but I think that’s what makes it special. I’ve made so many friends over the past couple of years and have grown so much as a person”, added Nandu.

In their latest initiative, Western Unified hosted the LETR for a couple of basketball games at the Western Student Rec Centre.

“Playing with the LETR was very fun. The best part was our Unified group got to play against another team. Even though it was all for fun, we encouraged each other on the court”, said Valerie.

“This was a great way to continue to grow our program within the community. Us organizations that support Special Olympics and stand for inclusivity and community need to stick together, and this was a great example of that. We look forward to building this into an annual game!”, said Nandu.

The Western Unified Intramural Basketball program will start up again in Fall 2024. If you are interested in getting involved or just checking the games out, please contact