Hapoel Unified Tel Aviv blazes trail on the basketball court

Apr 11, 2024 | Holyland Hoops

Hapoel Tel Aviv has done much work for the community at large over the years and in fact have been trailblazers in certain areas as well. As new owner Ofer Yannay begins to put his mark on the club as a whole, one of the team’s strongest points is the family atmosphere that surrounds it.

With that in mind, the basketball club decided to expand its horizons and begin a team entitled Hapoel Unified Tel Aviv which combines fans and those who are challenged primarily on the spectrum of autism. In honor of Autism Day that takes place in April, the United team held a special training session at the Drive In Arena with the senior team’s captain Bar Timor and center Kyle Alexander.

The idea to begin a hoops squad came from Danny Or who manages the HeadStart, Be Active and Give Back websites and most importantly has a son that has special needs as well. The Reds soccer team has been very active over the years in such a program that consists of numerous participating clubs from across the country. Over in basketball, Hapoel is the first to form such a team that has 7 fans and 7 “Unified” athletes.

“Hapoel Unified Tel Aviv is the first basketball team in Israel that combines Hapoel Tel Aviv fans and adults with special needs,” Or began. “This is a model we took from the soccer team and has existed here in Israel for several years. The entire field of Unified Sports is developing around the world and to my delight, Hapoel Tel Aviv and the Tel Aviv Municipality jumped on our idea and we established this team. We have been training since September and I hope that soon enough there will be more such teams so that we can play with others as well.”

“At the moment, we don’t really have anyone to play against and we’re also not 100% ready to compete but in May there should be a 3 on 3 tournament in Herzliya that I hope we will take part in. We are in contact with Hapoel Jerusalem and Bnei Herzliya as well as with Maccabi Rishon Le’Zion and Hapoel Haifa. I hope that by September we will be at least 4 teams so that we can put together tournaments next year. It would be amazing.”

As the United players began their special session at the Drive In Arena which also included a tour of the lockerroom and other areas of the facility including the weight room, a special guest came out to join the action on Bar Timor who also shared some words about the event.

“First of all, it excites me a lot and this initiative is very gratifying. It shows what Hapoel is; a family and club. Being here, working with them on their skills and training with them always reminds me about the special privilege that I have to make people happy and help people. It’s fun and really kudos to everyone involved in this amazing project.”

When Timor so nonchalantly joined the practice, the Unified players didn’t realize at first that the captain was within their midst, however, when they did, glowing smiles instantaneously emerged on their faces as they kept running their plays but soon after that everyone greeted their hero.

“I understand how excited they were from their reactions and hugs,” Timor said. “That’s what I meant about the privilege. It’s amazing for me that the little I did, just to come here and be with them for 10-15 minutes, run with them and pass the ball to them. You can see the reactions on their faces and the smiles, it’s worth everything it all.”

Canadian big man Kyle Alexander also joined the session and was blown away by having the honor of being with the United team.

“I didn’t know that this team was the first, I’m honored now,” Alexander said. “It’s an awesome event, everybody here is really amazing, everybody have smiles on their face, it’s awesome to see basketball uniting people. I’m definitely glad that we were able to make their day. Like I said, it’s an amazing event and the fact that they want us to be here and that they are appreciative about it means everything.”

Or stood in amazement as the stars took to the court to play with the Unified squad, “It’s great excitement, both for me and for all the fans as this is a very, very big dream come true. The very fact that we are here and wearing Hapoel’s uniform – there are people here who have been in this arena perhaps once, there are people who are here for the first time and there are people who have been here hundreds times but for all of us it’s a very, very exciting day. This was one of our goals for this year, to come here to practice, to make the team understand that we have to work hard and train even harder in order to deserve to come here for a practice.”

Timor understood very well that his role on the club is crucial for the success of these programs and that it also brings out the best in everyone, “I think that beyond being a captain it is special first of all as a person and as a player, to really know how one can influence a wide range of people, both children and adults. It’s always very exciting and it is part of the privilege of being a basketball player with the opportunity to influencing people positively.”

“It’s amazing, really and it shows this club and its values,” Timor continued. “I hope and I am sure that this will cause other clubs to do what we are doing. I’m sure that people from other clubs will take this as an example from here as there is someone to take from and someone to ask and they will all want that this project will go on and will grow. I’m sure it will happen and it’s amazing.”

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