As snow falls and record cold temperatures sweep across the United States, it is time to reflect on the successful partnerships between our member state associations and Special Olympics that resulted in an amazing fall season. It was a fall full of firsts and continuing traditions as Unified athletics took center stage across the country. While some states were celebrating culminating inaugural fall seasons, others were highlighting Unified exhibition events in conjunction with their tournament series.
Alabama High School Athletic Association
For the third consecutive year, the Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) and Special Olympics Alabama partnered to kick-off the AHSAA 2016 Super 7 Championship week at Auburn University. Unified athletes and partners were given the “Auburn Football” experience as they competed on the Auburn University Indoor Football Practice Facility due to weather conditions, but not before they took advantage of running out of the tunnel onto the rain-soaked turf at the stadium.
AHSAA Executive Director Steve Savarese stated, “Our partnership with Special Olympics is an opportunity that allows the AHSAA to host the annual Unified Football Championships. This event is one of the most, if not the most, rewarding championships hosted by our Association. Providing a platform for all students, regardless of limitations, to experience the life-long lessons learned through competitive athletics while competing in our state’s finest stadiums at the University of Alabama and Auburn University, has done more for our Association than we could ever do for these student-athletes. We will be forever grateful for the lessons learned and the relationships made through our alliance with Special Olympics.”
Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association
On December 3, the Newark Charter and McKean High School Unified flag football teams felt the same anticipation and excitement as they prepared to take the field at Delaware Stadium in between the Division I and II high school football state championship games. A season that began in September as eight schools across the state of Delaware formed and began practicing, competing and bonding was now coming to an apogee on this cold December afternoon.
The Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association (DIAA) in partnership with Special Olympics Delaware (SODE) developed a full Unified flag football season this past fall after a successful pilot program last fall for Unified athletes and partners to compete and create unbreakable bonds that transcend the sport. While Newark Charter took home its very first DIAA State Championship, it was Patriots head coach, Chris Muscara that said it best, “We were winners the moment they stepped in here.”
(Special to the Delaware State News/Doug Curran)
Nebraska School Activities Association
Imagine the nerves and overflowing excitement that the Unified athletes and partners experienced as they walked into Sun Valley Lanes in Lincoln, Nebraska to take part in the first ever Nebraska School Activities Association (NSAA) Unified Bowing Championship. The stage was set with 275 attendees witnessing Unified athletes and partners working together to compete at the highest level of teamwork, respect and love of competition. This inaugural series started with 43 schools and 701 participants fighting for this opportunity. Eight teams qualified and competed in this festive, finals event which saw Northwest High School become the Inaugural NSAA Unified Sports Bowling State Champions.
Dan Masters, NSAA Assistant Director shared, “The Unified concept has allowed schools to see, firsthand, the positive changes and impact to school culture that it can have. Specifically, Unified Sports, Bowling in Nebraska has given more students in the state an opportunity to compete, train, practice and grow from an activity, more importantly an educationally based activity. The results have been instantaneous and will continue to positively reinforce the needs for activities for all students. This is an exciting time in Nebraska!”
Congratulation to all the Unified athletes, partners, coaches, schools, communities and sponsoring organizations that will be forever changed by these experiences. It was a great fall 2016 for education based Unified athletics as our students across the country were “Making the Move from Sidelines to Game Time.” As winter sets in and Unified sports head indoors from coast to coast, good luck to all the teams having fun, forming friendships and learning from one another as you compete with your teammates for your school and the pure joy of playing sports.
Lindsey Atkinson is a coordinator of sports, a member of the inclusion staff and the tennis liaison for the NFHS.