In a time when bullying is all over the news – from as young as elementary schools to grown men in the NFL – we recently got a wonderful reprieve of that at a Schools Partnership Program event in Nevada. It was a great reminder of the good that happens with the lines blur between special education and general education students and how fantastically effective it can be to have Special Olympics in the schools.
On Friday, Las Vegas’ Woodbury Middle School hosted a unified soccer tournament featuring 513 non-disabled peers and school-based Special Olympics student-athletes playing soccer – together. Since the start of the school year, general and special education students at six middle schools and 16 high schools have been practicing and playing soccer as one united team. Friday’s soccer tournament was the culminating event for their weeks of training – and the first of three unified sports competitions to be held this school year.
Teams competed in A and B divisions depending on their teacher-determined level of skill. In every game, a Special Olympics Schools Partnership Program student-athlete would score first, and then the goal scoring would alternate between general and special education students.
For those student-athletes who are mobile but can’t fully grasp playing on a soccer team, adapted physical education teachers and volunteers from Woodbury manned skills stations so that everyone could participate.
To say that unified play like this is a win-win situation doesn’t seem strong enough. Not only do the special education student-athletes learn social skills by interacting with their non-disabled peers, but it also breaks down barriers that prevent the general education students from connecting with their classmates who have intellectual disabilities.
But that’s not all.
One of the most striking things is that this isn’t just a one-off volunteer shift to fulfill a community service obligation or bolster a college application. These general education students spend weeks volunteering with these student-athletes, playing sports and becoming friends. There are genuine bonds of friendship forged, it helps spread the word to end the r-word and seriously regulates bullying because it shows people of all types can work and play together.
To see more photos, please click here. Thanks to all the schools that participated – especially with Woodbury for hosting – we can’t wait to see you this winter for unified basketball!