Through a partnership with the Utah High School Activities Association, Special Olympics Utah started offering an inclusive sports program called Unified Sports that provides an opportunity for students with and without disabilities to train and compete together as teammates.
Canyons District Special Education Director Robin Collett lauds Unified Sports for its inclusiveness. “It’s a great program,” she said, ” and we are very glad that our high schools chose to participate.”
The four participating Canyons high schools are among the first 12 to provide this kind of experience for their students. On Wednesday, March 19, 2014 at Hillcrest’s Del Mar Schick Stadium, parents, friends and family applauded and snapped photos of the players on the field. During the games, three Special Olympics Utah athletes and two partners vied for goals and cheers.
This year, students participating in Unified Sports will compete in soccer and track and field. The UHSAA is the seventh state interscholastic association to officially partner with Special Olympics to offer Unified Sports as a new division of play. Other state interscholastic associations are now also quickly sanctioning Unified Sports, thanks in part to a recent endorsement from the National Federation of High Schools.
Collett said the program came about in response to a 2013 letter from the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights “regarding actual competition involving students with disabilities and students without disabilities.”
The letter re-emphasized and clarified the legal and philosophical obligation of schools to provide equal opportunities and the same support and resources for students with disabilities to participate in extracurricular athletics as are afforded the school’s other athletic programs. The letter creates a clear roadmap for how schools can integrate students with disabilities into mainstream athletic programs and also initiate adapted programs for students with disabilities. One of the suggested opportunities in the clarifying letter for physical activity and sports equal to those afforded to students without disabilities is Unified Sports.
The state tournament for Unified Sports track and field will be Wednesday, May 14. Students from Alta, Brighton, Hillcrest and Jordan will compete in this activity, as well.