Special and general education students at three local high schools are teaming up for a new brand of basketball – a Unified Sports league in partnership with Special Olympics Northern California Schools Partnership Program! Heritage, Freedom and Liberty high schools have all assembled unified teams comprised of students receiving special education services and their non-disabled peers.
Unified Sports – a component of the SONC Schools Partnership Program – sees students with and without disabilities play on the same sports team. People of similar age and sporting ability are grouped into teams, making practices and games more challenging and exciting for all. You can read more about Unified Sports by clicking here.
Freedom High School Athletic Director Steve Amaro is the catalyst for the creation of the Unified Sports league in Brentwood and Oakley. Amaro connected with Special Olympics Northern California [SONC] at a national athletic directors conference. With support from SONC’s Schools Partnership Program, Amaro approached his counterparts at Heritage and Liberty high schools and collectively created a Unified basketball league.
“Steve, his staff and students have taken the ball and run with it,” SONC Vice President for School and Youth Services Cathy Domanski-DeVries said. “Steve had a concept and Special Olympics Unified Sports was the perfect program to help make it happen. Over the last three months, Steve and everyone involved have gotten buy-in from students, administrators and teachers. It’s really fantastic to see.”
Unified Sports promotes meaningful social inclusion, builds friendships and understanding between the two groups who might not have much positive interaction. With the common ground of sports, preconceptions and false ideas are swept away and replaced with mutual respect.
“I wanted to get involved to help my kids make more friends on campus and get the chance to play a sport after school,” said Jill Pasker, a life skills teacher at Freedom High School. “I want general education students to be more aware of kids with disabilities. I want students to know that kids with disabilities are just like them and they want to be accepted and included.”
For two weeks, teams practiced together to prepare for their league games. The students with disabilities will don their school colors and experience varsity sports in the same manner that the general education students do.
“Jill Pasker, Steve Amaro and myself have been thrilled with the warm reception this program has received so far,” Liberty teacher and coach Shannon Yancey said. “The varsity basketball players are psyched to practice and compete and are forming genuine relationships with our life skills students.”
What an exciting league! We’ll have much more to come from Brentwood and Oakley in the near future!