GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — 50 years ago, Bill Dombrowski started something in the state of Michigan. He let everyone that wanted to, play on a basketball team.
Regardless of an athlete's ability, Dombrowski empowered athletes on the hardwood. His was the first Special Olympics team in Michigan.
"So, this picture, I'm going to show you is pretty cool. We played the "Kent Optimists." You can see they have on Union High School uniforms," said Dombrowski, reflecting on his first team who had no other teams to compete against.
Dombrowski added, "We started the first basketball team in the state, I know for sure Michigan, but maybe the country too."
In 1972, the younger Coach Bill was still as passionate as ever about the game of basketball. He was eager to coach players just as enthusiastic to get on the court as he was.
"And the gentleman here, his name is Steve. He's been with me for 50 years. 50 years he's been with me. He keeps coming back. And I've always said, I'm going to retire when Steve does, but he keeps coming back,"said Dombrowski.
Looking back on all those years, what have the athletes taught you? Dombrowski said, "I mean humanity, really, you know humanity."
Today, Coach Bill works with the Grand Rapids Center Cougars and Buffaloes. Just two of the more than 40 teams playing in West Michigan.
"If you were to put me in a coach's hall of fame, it wouldn't be as the winningest coach, I am sure I lost more games than we have ever won, because we let everybody play," said Dombrowski.
Dombrowski said he's not a storied coach. Well, maybe not in the traditional sense. But, those stories he shares after 50 years, rival any coach's trophy case.
"My driver has always been help them to do more than they ever thought was possible, because that's what they did for me with unspoken words," said Dombrowski.
His family is involved too, his two sons, wife Sue, and granddaughter Maddie all work with Special Olympics Michigan.
On Saturday at 11 AM at the Special Olympics Inclusion Center on 68th St. friends, former and current athletes, and coaches are invited to celebrate Coach Bill.