The Harford County Unified Basketball team combines athletes of similar ability with and without intellectual disabilities. It consists of 10 players and two coaches.
The Highlighters is one of two basketball teams selected to represent Special Olympics Maryland in the USA Games to be held in Seattle, Wash. July 2-6. The team from Harford County won gold at the state tournament and hopes to earn gold at the USA Games.
“These guys have worked hard as a team and I’m hopeful they do really well,” Coach Nancy Castaldo said.
The team is actively fundraising for their trip to Seattle. Tax deductible donations can be made to Harford County Special Olympics, 1552 Bentley Circle, Bel Air, MD 21015 or at tinyurl.com/TeamMD2018. Join the team at Charm City Run, 126 S. Main St., Bel Air, for a fundraiser, open house and team send-off celebration on Thursday, June 14 from 5 to 8 p.m.
There’s something special about the four unified partners on the team: they all belong to one family - the Schmidt family — with father, mother and three sons on the same team. Nancy home schooled her three sons and coaches softball. Mike is an operations research analyst at U.S. Army Material Systems Analysis Activity. He enjoys coaching baseball and building jigsaw puzzles. Sons are Andrew Schmidt, Michael and Dan Schmidt.
In a particularly exciting moment during a game, Michael Schmidt broke free and launched a jump shot. He works at the Bel Air Athletic Club and plays the drums for his church. He also writes stories and types them on his computer. Michael has trained as a Special Olympics Global Messenger and often speaks about his Special Olympics experiences at various community events and fundraisers.
The brothers support each other. When Michael missed a shot in a game, his brother Dan, a unified partner, got the rebound and banked one in.
Dan is the youngest of the three Schmidt brothers and is also a musician - he is a master guitar player and favors blues and classic rock. Dan works at Chick-Fil-A in Abingdon and will continue his business degree program at Towson University in the fall.
Unified partner Andrew is a Shakespearean and musical actor and is the joker of the family, but he’s certainly not joking around on the court and makes many deft passes. Andrew works at the accounting firm of Hertzbach & Company and is working toward completing a master’s degree in forensic accounting at Stevenson University.
One of the coaches is Greg Loyco, whose son, Matt, is on the team.
Greg is a science and special education teacher for Baltimore County Public Schools. Aside from coaching basketball, softball, and soccer, Loyco loves to dance (rock and roll) and he confides that someday he will sing the Bohemian Rhapsody karaoke style in public.
Loyco says his son is a “hot dog” in all aspects of the word - he loves eating them and is one, as he’s always playing to the crowd. Matt works at Plasticpak in Havre de Grace.
Castaldo has been a basketball coach for 18 years. She became involved with Special Olympics eight years ago, first coaching basketball and adding softball five years ago. Castaldo is a division chief at U.S. Army Aberdeen Test Center. Her hobby is scrapbooking family events and vacation memories and she is a member of the Silver Eagle Cloggers.
Some tidbits about the other players:
Justin Wilkins won an opening tip-off at the state tournament in April and when he’s not playing basketball, he’s sharing photos and bucket list travel destinations on Facebook or singing karaoke.
Chris Hanson, number 10, is known for his tenacious defensive skills, particularly in the state tournament games. He kept hustling and also made a steal. Chris works at Aberdeen Proving Ground and is a big Orioles and Ravens fan, attending many games with his friends and family.
The center on the team is Josh Kivinski, who in his spare time is a fervent video game player, preferably while munching on some pizza.
Often wearing a camera and a smile, music aficionado and weatherman Danny Grau is a scoring machine. He is all over the court and always there when needed. Danny works at Aberdeen Proving Ground.