Roseville Unified coach Reba Stanley is recognized for her efforts with the team during halftime of Roseville Unified’s matchup against Sterling Heights Feb. 13.

Roseville Unified coach Reba Stanley is recognized for her efforts with the team during halftime of Roseville Unified’s matchup against Sterling Heights Feb. 13.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Roseville Unified basketball taking school by storm

By: Jonathan Szczepaniak | Roseville-Eastpointe Eastsider | Published February 16, 2024


ROSEVILLE — No matter what coach, player or teacher you speak with on the grounds of Roseville High School, there’s one word that continuously makes its way into conversation when describing the school — “family.”

Head football coach Vernard Snowden and head basketball coach Gregory Boler have discussed the culture of the Panthers on numerous occasions, emphasizing how their teams have embodied the brotherhood mentality.

The feeling is widespread across the entire school, and now Roseville Unified, a new basketball team for students in the special education program, is part of the Panthers family as well.

“To see how much everyone is involved with this and excited about this from the top down has been amazing,” Roseville staff member and Unified coach Reba Stanley said. “Our superintendent has come out to games, and all the staff have bought T-shirts to wear to support. Kids in my class don’t always have friends with other kids in the hallway. They kind of just stick together because they’re shy and they like people like them with their disability. Now, people see them in the hallway and are calling out their name and giving them a high-five and saying they watched them in the game, they’re posting about the game on social media, and letting them sit with them at lunchtime. My kids feel like celebrities.”

Stanley, a Roseville graduate, teaches students with cognitive impairments at Roseville High School; she made the suggestion to form the team.

Stanley said she first thought of the idea after seeing Grosse Pointe South form its Unified team, and she conducted further research after the fact.

Before the idea could get traction, COVID-19 interrupted the process and brought everything to a halt.

But once the dust settled and Stanley saw an opportunity to bring the team together, she and Snowden presented the idea to Roseville athletic director Keith Marzec.

“Pre-COVID, we had looked at it and talked about it,” Marzec said. “After COVID, we never really got it going. Really, the driving force was our CI teacher, Reba Stanley. She got Snowden on board and they presented it to me, and I said, ‘Absolutely.’”

Marzec’s daughter, senior Makayla Marzec, is currently on the squad.

Unified Sports, a Special Olympics program, is available to students with an individual education program and an intellectual disability. General education students are encouraged to join the team as partners as well.

Each game consists of three special education athletes and two general education partners on the court together. Compiling a 4-0 record on the season with wins over Sterling Heights, Clawson and Grosse Pointe South, Roseville Unified flexed its muscles in its first season, which is now completed.

“What tells you how good our kids are is that a lot of times on the floor we’ll either have five kids with disabilities or only one kid as a partner,” Marzec said. “We have some kids in our CI program that can really play basketball.”

But it’s bigger than basketball, and a team parade throughout the hallways of Roseville High School showcased just that.

Before their first home game, the school held a team parade for Unified as teachers and students made posters and signs, cheering for the players as they walked down the hallway.

Even more, the support at each game has been immeasurable as teachers and students filled the bleachers in support of their classmates.

So while Roseville Unified is dominating on the hardwood, the biggest winner has been Roseville High School as a whole

“I think the greatest thing, and really the reason why Unified got started, is to bridge the gap of kids with disabilities and without disabilities,” Marzec said. “It’s amazing. Having her dad as an athletic director in the building, and she’s kind of low-key in her own little program now, it’s amazing how many people know who (Makayla Marzec) is now, and the CI kids, and seeing the high-fives. We had a parade for the team before their game, and the amount of kids and classes that made posters and signs and were cheering, and they know our kids by name, it’s awesome. They get a chance to have a high school experience, and I think that’s really important.”

Roseville is currently looking at potential options for a Unified team in flag football, bowling and soccer while the school’s Unified dance team is set to compete in an event in Ypsilanti.

For basketball, the hope is that more schools in the Macomb Area Conference form Unified teams to make a league, or to at least make a full schedule. Roseville Unified faced off against Grosse Pointe South twice this season.

Regardless, Roseville Unified is now a part of the Roseville family, and by the looks of the reception and interaction this season, it will be for a very long time.

“When I went to school here, obviously Roseville was still good,” Stanley said. “I had my own things going on with being in band and drama, but everybody was doing their own thing. Football players were with football players and band kids were with band kids. It was a good experience, but the shift we have in the family aspect is crazy. We had nine kids sign for football, and everybody was there. The choir kids were cheering them on. The three buses of basketball players came out to support my kids. The football players are cheering them on at the games. The whole student section is full of football players cheering on the basketball team. That’s definitely something different than when I went here.”