With the weather warming up and winter sports coming to a conclusion, we can look back at the partnerships between our member state associations and Special Olympics from this winter season. This season showed continued growth in Unified sports and more heart-warming stories from some great students.
Maine Principals’ Association
For the third straight year, Maine’s Unified basketball participation grew steadily. Cooperation between the Maine Principals’ Association (MPA) with Special Olympics and Project Unify has been key to this steady growth. Maine currently has 48 teams representing 52 schools, which is up considerably compared to 32 teams last winter.
“We’re starting this year with 52 schools and 48 teams, so we’re seeing more and more cooperative teams,” said Mike Burnham, MPA assistant executive director. “And actually, I’ve heard from other schools throughout the preseason that have welcomed some students from other area schools, so that 52 number is probably low. We continue to grow.”
This spring, Unified athletes will be able to compete in track and field events as well. For the first time, Unified athletes will be able to compete in the 100-meter dash, 4x100-meter relay, shot put and long jump events.
Washington Interscholastic Activities Association
Unified athletics is becoming increasingly popular in Washington State as well. In 2009, the Special Olympics teamed up with the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) to develop a competitive Unified basketball league. The sport had been available recreationally since the early 1990s. Currently there are more than 150 schools throughout Washington state participating in Unified sports.
“It transcends everything, because you don’t look at the disability or the ability — you look at the athlete,” said Special Olympics Washington Vice President of Sports and Community Outreach Joe Hampson. “Once they hit the court, everything else is just wiped away and it’s about playing, developing friendships, unity and acceptance.”
New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association
Imagine the roller coaster of emotions felt by New Jersey students, parents and fans as a wrestler with Down syndrome wins his first varsity wrestling match. Senior David Richards of Brick Memorial High School took the mat against Middletown North’s Richie Wall in a recent meet. The two had wrestled earlier this year with Wall coming out on top but this match was different. Richards pinned Wall to get his first varsity victory as wrestling season was coming to a close.
“When I found out we were wrestling Brick Memorial on Saturday, I was like ‘Great, I get to see Dave again,’ ” said Wall. “I feel like every single kid should have a chance to succeed and do good. That’s what it’s all about. It’s not about winning a trophy. It’s about inclusion and making his day better.”
Congratulations to all the Unified athletes, partners, coaches, schools, communities and sponsoring organizations for a great winter season. It was great for students across the country “Making the Move from Sidelines to Game Time.”
Bryce Woodall is an intern in the NFHS Publications/Communications Department. Woodall is a senior at Franklin (Indiana) College studying public relations.