The Nebraska School Activities Association (NSAA) will begin offering championships in unified sports next year, according to Dan Masters, the NSAA assistant director in charge of the program.
Unified sports bring together, as teammates, individuals with intellectual disabilities (called unified student-athletes) and those without intellectual disabilities (called unified student partners). They train, compete and socialize as equals.
The NSAA will offer unified bowling championships during the 2016-17 school year and plans to expand with track and field relays, swimming relays and golf during the 2017-18 school year.
"That's the beauty of having students with and without intellectual disabilities together on a team. It's so advantageous for both groups," Masters said.
The programs provide social inclusion, meaningful sports experiences and help reduce bullying, Masters said. Interaction between the groups has proved to go beyond the athletic venue. One study found 79 percent of unified partners had contact with a unified athlete during free time and 41 percent reported eating lunch with a unified athlete.
According to National Federation of High School Associations information, Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, New York, Washington and Illinois have unified sports programs.
The NSAA passed a bylaw in the 2013-14 school year that cleared the way for unified sports in the organization.