UNITY – One former Brewer High School student, and a fixture around UMaine athletics, is getting the community involved for a new program that gives young adults with intellectual disabilities new opportunities to play sports.
If you were looking for Kristian Joliat on a given day in the past few weeks, there is a good chance you will find him practicing his free throws in his driveway.
“I’m practicing mostly every day, when it’s not as hot outside.”
There are two things Kristian is passionate about: sports and all things fire departments. Both are key components to his and his family’s lives, as the son of two longtime firefighters. When he needed a partner for the unified walking program at the Alfond Youth and Community Center in Waterville, there was a natural connection to Skowhegan chief of police David Bucknam.
“I ended up grabbing some Skowhegan police department wristbands and patches, and unbeknown to me Kristian had actually done the same…which really just set the tone for two of us.”
A friendship grew through their experiences that quickly became friendly competition. When the new Unified Champions Club announced a “hoop shoot fundraiser,” Chief Bucknam was more than ready to be Kristian’s partner. Kristian, meanwhile, had other ideas.
“I stopped and looked at him and said, ‘Kristian are you benching me?’ and he goes ‘yes, yes, you’re my first runner up’ and I was like oh my goodness it is game on at this point.”
Kristian called in a favor from UMaine, where he is known as an honorary assistant men’s basketball coach, honorary summer camp counselor, and member of the zamboni crew at the Alfond Arena, among other titles. He wanted to have former big Ilija Stojiljkovic be his partner for the foul shot fundraiser, and the Black Bears were happy to repay, in part, the passion Kristian has given to the program for years.
“If you can find fans that love you like Kristian loves us, you’re on top of the world, he is so loyal, he is so enthusiastic, and it’s all genuine,” said UMaine men’s basketball head coach Richard Barron.
When Krisitan benched Chief Bucknam on that fateful day, he reignited a rivalry as old as time: fire versus police. A first responder camaraderie as old as the institutions themselves, built on banter.
“They make fun of the fire department for sleeping all day, we make fun of them for eating too much donuts! We help each other,” said Kristian
“We have that competitive nature between every organization but when you bring that organization together as one, stand back because that is one team that is going to be invincible,” said Chief Bucknam.
The fire and police departments across central Maine have united to raise money for the new Unified Champions Club through the Alfond Youth Center in Waterville. A initiative through the Maine Masonic Charitable Foundation to give adults with intellectual disabilities an outlet to compete after they graduate high school.
“Those opportunities for those young adults not only present them with the opportunity to learn how to do a new skill that they may have never been exposed to, but it gives them a social interaction and the opportunities they need to develop social skills,” said Kristian’s mother Sarah Joliat.
The club currently offers eight sports, from walking to bocce ball, and the club is hoping to continue to expand opportunities for these young adults. “Not only across the state of Maine, but something we hope to get rolled out across the country like I said it really starts at home so the bigger that we can grow this program, the easier it’s going to be to market this out there,” said program coordinator Erica Fredrick-Rock.
For more information on the fundraiser, and to donate, visit the club’s website.