For Bria and Connor King, Special Olympics Minnesota is a family matter. The twins from Eagan High School have not only found a home in the Unified Champion Schools movement, but they have grown closer as siblings through their involvement in Unified programming.

Bria began the King family Unified legacy during her freshman year with her mom’s encouragement. “Coming back to school after COVID, I didn’t have many friends and I wasn’t a big fan of school,” Bria says. “So my mom convinced me to join Unified and I had so much fun with it.” That year, Bria joined the Eagan Unified Basketball Team and competed in the Unified State Basketball Tournament. Connor watched from the stands, and once he saw what Unified could be, he knew he wanted to get involved. “Ever since then, we’ve been in Unified together,” says Bria.

Since that first basketball season, Bria and Connor have become role models at Eagan High School, both taking on leadership roles within the Special Olympics Minnesota Student Board of Directors. They are Unified leaders in all they do, helping to plan and facilitate Unified Club activities, speaking at Special Olympics Minnesota events and supporting Unified growth in their school and beyond. Jenelle Milleson, one of their Unified Club advisors, sees how important it is to have students like Bria and Connor who stand out, especially as she works to help implement Unified in the rest of the school district. Bria and Connor have joined Jenelle in her work to add Unified programming to elementary and middle schools across the district, visiting students and sharing the importance of inclusion and kindness.

“Educating elementary students about inclusion is so important,” Jenelle says. “That way it’s not something new when you get to high school.”

Jenelle Milleson and Unified co-advisor Matt Moore at the 2024 Unified State Basketball Tournament

Connor and Bria recall exclusion and bullying being prominent in middle and elementary school. “I saw the most bullying and use of the R-word in elementary and middle school,” Connor remembers. “It is so important to start engraving inclusion in people’s minds at a young age, so that is how they are raised—to include, not to discriminate.” Bria agrees. “As an athlete, I think starting Unified earlier would have helped me grow a lot,” she says.

In the past three years, both Connor and Bria agree that Unified has helped them step outside their comfort zone. In February 2024, Connor and Bria competed in the 2024 Unified State Basketball Tournament at the Target Center, where over 400 of their classmates from Eagan High School were in the stands cheering them on. Neither Bria nor Connor let the nerves get to them as they took home their third State Basketball title.

Eagan High School students at the 2023 Unified State Basketball Tournament

Bria, Connor and Jenelle all agree that basketball is their favorite sport to play Unified. “The team has really come together, and the competitiveness is so fun.” Jenelle, Bria and Connor have each created unforgettable memories through Unified basketball. For Jenelle, it was seeing hundreds of Eagan High School fans all in blue rush the court after Eagan Unified won the 2023 State Basketball Tournament.

The impact of Unified at Eagan High School goes beyond the basketball court. Connor describes Unified as a “safe haven” for students, and Jenelle sees how Unified is fun for all students involved. “Everything we do is building on relationships and friendships, and that brings a culture of fun!” she says. Bria agrees, emphasizing that she wants to see as many people as possible involved in Unified. Bria also credits Unified for helping her become more social. “Before Unified, I didn’t like meeting people or going to social events. Unified has really helped me get outside my comfort zone to be social and make friends,” Bria says. Her advice to educators interested in Unified is to “take chances and get involved. Don’t be afraid of the ‘what if’s.”

Bria and Connor have worked hard to create a culture of inclusion at Eagan High School, and their work has paid off immensely. “My dad has said that when he was in high school, the special education students were treated like ghosts, like they weren’t even there. Now, everyone is saying hi to everyone in the hallways and they are a part of the community,” Connor says. “Everyone is one now.”

Bria and Connor with Eagan Unified Basketball Team’s 2023 state trophy
Bria and Connor leading Opening Ceremonies at the 2024 Unified Basketball Tournament

The siblings have big dreams for Eagan High School’s Unified program. Connor wants to see younger students get involved as Unified partners to continue Eagan’s Unified legacy, and he hopes to someday see one of their Unified teams compete in the Special Olympics World Games. While they graduate in 2025, Connor and Bria’s Unified journeys will not stop there. “Unified will always be a part of my life. It’s impacted my life and made me a better person overall. I’ve met my friends here, and I have grown so much as a person,” Connor says. Bria also plans to incorporate Unified into her future, and she is looking at colleges that have a Unified program that she can join.

For Bria, her favorite Unified moment isn’t winning the State Basketball Tournament for the third year in a row, visiting and educating elementary school students, or attending Unified Club events. It’s simply spending time with the person she has known her whole life: Connor. “I love getting to share those moments with him,” Bria says.

Connor agrees, saying he has been so impressed with Bria’s involvement and growth over the years, fondly remembering the adversity and strength she’s displayed through some tough times. While he is thankful for all the connections and new friends he has made through Unified, he is particularly grateful for the impact Unified has had on his relationship with Bria. “I’ve gotten so close with Bria through Unified,” Connor says.

Bria echoes the same thought. “Unified has given Connor and me a much stronger relationship as brother and sister.”

Bria and Connor at the MNUFC Unified Soccer Game at Allianz Field