Unified Sports programs have been developed in many states across the country and the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association (NHIAA) is one of the latest state associations to become involved with its programs in track and field, soccer, basketball and volleyball.
“We started three years ago with soccer, basketball and outdoor track. We have now added volleyball,” said Pat Corbin, NHIAA executive director.
Unified Sports programs were made possible in New Hampshire thanks to joint planning and a philosophical agreement between the NHIAA and Mary Conroy, the chief executive officer of Special Olympics New Hampshire.
On March 16, the NHIAA held its third Unified Basketball Championship involving 16 of the 31 unified basketball teams. Keene (New Hampshire) High School defeated Claremont (New Hampshire) Stevens High School to claim its first state Unified Basketball Championship. Contoocook (New Hampshire) Hopkinton High School and Nashua (New Hampshire) South High School won in 2012 and 2013, respectively.
“We said from the beginning that we wanted to make the athletes’ experience as compatible as possible to the other athletes in the school,” Corbin said. “In that regard, the students participating wear school uniforms, standings are kept and the champion and runner-up receive the same championship plaques and medals as all the other sports.”
Corbin said Unified Sports are having a greater impact than he anticipated. The intellectually handicapped students have learned how to play competitive sports. These students, for the first time, have the pride others get in representing their schools as student-athletes, not Special Olympians. Unified athletes are now more included in the culture of the school.”
“As a bonus, the non-disabled ‘partners’ who play as their teammates indicate it is the most gratifying experience of their high school career. And, of course, at every game, the gyms and fields are filled with fans and proud parents with tears streaming down their faces sharing in the pride and joy of the kids.”
Although Unified Sports in New Hampshire are making an impact now, it was a tough sell at first, Corbin noted. The NHIAA had to bring awareness to the fact that these youngsters could learn the skills and rules of the game and compete like any other student.
“People are now buying into the concept after witnessing the vast improvement in the skills of the athletes and seeing the difference it makes in the culture of a school,” Corbin said.
Megan Filipowski was a 2014 spring intern in the NFHS Publications/Communications Department. She is a graduate at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis studying sports journalism. She graduated in May 2013 from Spring Arbor University where she was Editor-in-Chief of the student publication and writer for the Athletic Department.