Making the Move from Sidelines to Game Time: 2019 Winter Unified Sports Highlights
As we spring ahead to a new season, let’s first look back on a few of the successful partnerships between our member state associations and Special Olympics from an exciting winter season.
New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association
Unified teams from 17 schools came together at Hunterdon Central High School (NJ) on March 2 to compete in the first official New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association Unified Basketball Tournament. This is all thanks to the partnership between the NJSIAA and Special Olympics New Jersey.
The third year of Unified basketball saw growth from only two teams in 2016 to 18 teams in 2018. The 18 teams were split into two divisions for a season of league play followed by North and South sectional division rounds culminating in a state championship.
Triumphing in the ‘A’ Division Championship game was Ewing High School who defeated Moorestown in front of a crowd of 4,000 at the Rutgers University Athletic Center. The ‘B’ division was won by Monroe High School who was victorious over West Morris High School in the final.
“The basketball championship games on the “A” and “B” levels were well played and exciting to watch.” Al Stumpf, NJSIAA Assistant Director said.
(Andy Mills, NJ.com)
Stumpf has seen not only growth in participation of Unified activities, but growth within the school community as a result of these activities.
“It is giving students who would have never experienced a high school athletic, let alone a high school championship experience, the chance to compete in a high school sport. The impact that I have seen has made a difference in both the Unified Athletes and in their partners. The amount of inclusion has gone up not only in sports, but also in all areas of the school community. Most of the schools are reporting that there are less reported cases of intolerance now that the Unified programs are in place.”
This spring, Unified athletes will compete in Track and Field as the NJSIAA and SONJ will be sponsoring a Unified Track and Field State Championship for the third year. Unified Track and Field has grown from 4 teams in the first season to 30 teams who will compete for the championship this year.
Illinois High School Association
On March 15 and 16 Illinois High School Association and Special Olympics Illinois partnered together to host Unified Basketball Championships. This was the third year for the partnership between the IHSA and SOIL and it showed tremendous growth evolving from only eight teams in the first year to 38 unified teams for year three.
Eight teams across two divisions competed to be crowned champion during the two-day event. Homewood-Flossmoore High School was victorious in the Division 1 championship game while Vernon Hills High School took home the Division 2 title. Click here to watch the championship games courtesy of the Homewood-Flossmoor High School media department.
Kraig Garber, Assistant Executive Director of the IHSA, recognizes the benefits the partnership between the IHSA and SOIL provides to students.
“It helps break down the stereotypes about people with intellectual disabilities. It presents a great opportunity for athletes with disabilities and their non-disabled peers to develop those teammate bonds and friendships that are so common in interscholastic sports and activities. In addition, it allows for Special Olympics athletes to get to represent their schools in meaningful competition. The IHSA is very proud of its partnership with SOILL, and our organizations are continuing to work together to increase opportunities in Unified sports and activities.”
Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association
On March 10, Glasgow High School rallied to victory over Caesar Rodney High School in the first Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association/Special Olympics Delaware Unified Basketball Championship. This was the second year of the partnership between the DIAA and SODE, but the first year conducting a championship.
“We have a Unified sport in each of our three seasons now and they are the best of what we do.” Tommie Neubauer, Executive Director of the DIAA says. “This is one of the purest examples of interscholastic athletics stressing education-based competition.”
Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association
In collaboration with Special Olympics Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association hosted the Unified Sports Bocce State Championships March 20-21 at the Giant Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Twelve Unified teams competed for the state title with Bald Eagle Area High School coming out on top as the state champions.
In their inaugural season, Bald Eagle Area had so much interest in a Unified bocce team that the school fielded two teams, Blue and Gold. The two teams met in the regional championship with Gold advancing to the state championship. In the championship game, BEA trailed Columbia High School 4-0 before coming from behind to win, 6-4.
The PIAA and SOPA will join forces once again this spring to host the Unified Sports Track and Field State Championships.