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By Daniel J. Vance

(This column originally ran February 2011. Devin now is a college senior and Miya is 18. The Dayton Flyers were this year's Cinderella NCAA tournament team.)

If for no other reason than Devin and Miya Oliver, I'm rooting for the Dayton Flyers men's basketball team this year. Now a Flyers freshman, Devin finished fourth in Michigan's Mr. Basketball voting last year leading his Kalamazoo Central High squad to a Michigan state title. Miya, his 15-year-old sister, was born with Down syndrome and has been his biggest fan. Over the years, brother and sister have helped each other mature into special people.

“They are going to make you cherish and love life more,” said Devin in a telephone interview after being asked about having a sibling with Down syndrome. “Not many people have a little sister with a disability, but having one helped me become the person I am. I cherish it. I've never looked at it as a disadvantage and I think others should do the same.”

Oliver, who had a 3.86 GPA in high school, speaks with a polished maturity seldom heard in young adults. Part of that may come from his having to physically or verbally defend his sister from people trying to make fun of her. “I have always looked at her as just being my little sister, but not everyone has looked at her that way,” he said. “That helped me understand how important it was not to automatically judge people by their appearance.”

As he matured, rather than become enraged at people teasing, he would calmly explain Miya was his sister and that they ought to hold their tongue. Teens usually listen intently when 6'7” basketball stars speak.

Last school year when Devin was earning basketball honors as a senior, his sister was just entering Kalamazoo Central. He said, “My being good at basketball helped her become accepted. Everyone knew she was Devin's little sister and to not mess with her. The most important thing for me that year was to help her transition into high school, which is scary for most kids, let alone someone with Down syndrome. She was my number one fan at basketball games. Through my playing basketball, people knew who she was and she got more respect.”

Devin had nothing but praise for Miya, who he called “Miss Social.” She also has been one of the Dayton Flyers top fans and has become friends with Devin's teammates. Maturing on as brother and sister, they will likely keep inspiring each other.

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