HOT SPRINGS – Though Bryant won the game, everyone was a winner in the Special Olympics Unified basketball game between Bryant and Vilonia on Thursday.

The game opened state championship weekend at the Bank of Ozarks Arena.

The 7A State Girls Championship game between Conway and North Little Rock flanked the Unified game, bringing in crowds to showcase the talent of the Unified games.

Teams made up of a mixture of students workers and special needs kids filled the court for not only a trophy, but for a greater joy —  to honor the students who may not otherwise have opportunities to shine.

Throughout the game, student workers passed up easy looks to pass the ball over to a student with special needs in hopes of seeing faces light up with joy after sinking a shot.

For some, the joy came from being on the court, getting the ball and being a part of the team.

Not once did student workers overshadow the special needs players.

Just as designed, the special needs students were the shining light in an already bright arena.

Cheers and encouragement was heard throughout the Bank of Ozarks Arena.

Bryant’s Kaylyn Terry was met with ooh’s and ah’s when he danced to music played over the PA system during timeouts.

Vilonia’s Gage Bracas happily ran around the Bryant defenders hoping for his best look at a shot. Unfortunately, none  fell.

Bryant’s Jacob Carpenter filled his lane perfectly through the game, leading all scorers with 16 points.

All players played an important role whether they scored or not.

This game was the perfect example of inclusion.