More students are taking to the court and field through Unified Sports at McCutcheon and Harrison high schools. Unified Sports is a growing program that joins students with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team.
"The program benefits students in a tremendous way," says Arin Keen, who coaches Unified Track at Harrison High School. "This program allows partners to stay active and take on leadership positions while not in season. It also builds friendships that carry on throughout the year. The ability of our athletes vary greatly, but the benefit of Unified Sports is that every person plays a vital role to the team's success."
McCutcheon parent Cari Holt says being in Unified Sports brings her daughter so much joy. "To feel included has always been important to Payton," says Holt. "I appreciate all the students and coaches who make the events, games and matches experiences she will always remember."
Harrison senior Alex Gary plays soccer for the Raiders and started helping with Unified Sports so more students could feel included. "Participating in Unified has been amazing because I get to help every unified athlete feel like they are a part of a team and help them work toward accomplishing a common goal." says Alex. "Nothing will ever be able to beat the relationships I have built with the unified athletes."
Harrison has 28 athletes participating in track this season competing in events like the 100 meter dash, long jump, and shot put. McCutcheon has 33 athletes that are partners who compete as a team.
McCutcheon Unified Track Coach Elizabeth All says the practices and meets allow students of all abilities to grow physically and develop relationships they may not have had the opportunity to have otherwise.
"As we were going to our starting spots, even though we were from different schools, we were all talking to each other, encouraging each other to do their best, and just having a good time," explains McCutcheon junior Megan Merryman.
At a track meet, basketball game and other events, you will find students proudly sporting a school uniform surrounded with a welcoming, energetic atmosphere. The students agree it is all about developing relationships and memories.
"The special needs students love to make new friends and seeing them connect with others and seeing the smile on their face brings me so much joy," says Megan. "I have gained friendships and a new perspective on these students that I never had before. You really see them break out of their shell when they are out having fun."
"It's funny because people always tell us how much they (unified athletes) look up to the partner athletes, but in reality, I look up the unified athletes," says Alex. "They are so compassionate, yet so competitive and I am so grateful to be able to be in this program."