Teams Unite Walsh and Special Olympic Athletes for Competitive Play
This March, Walsh University launched a new Unified Sports® Program that pairs Walsh students with Special Olympic athletes for intramural basketball. Spearheaded by Walsh’s Intramural Coordinator Nick Wright with assistance from Special Olympics Ohio and Stark County DD, the teams will include Walsh students as well as Special Olympic athletes from the Stark County Board of Developmental Disabilities. The program was created with the mission to promote social inclusion through sports training and competition experiences. This is the first Unified Sports program in Stark County.
The Intramural season began on Wednesday, March 14, in the Walsh University Cecchini Center. Additional games will be held at the same time and location, on the following Wednesdays, March 21, 28 and April 4. Special Olympic athletes will compete on the court with approximately 25 Walsh students from Physical Therapy, Campus Ministry, Student Wellness Organization and Walsh’s intramural sports program. In Unified Sports, teams are made up of people of similar age and ability. Participants will be divided among four teams of 10-12 players, with each game refereed by an official.
“I participated in the Unified Sports Program my senior year at Ohio State,” said Wright. “I really enjoyed my time on the team and wanted to bring the same opportunity to both our Walsh and local communities. To help launch the program, we intentionally reached out to students in disciplines such as Physical Therapy, Campus Ministry and Student Wellness, who will be working with individuals with disabilities throughout their careers. This is a unique opportunity to have some fun while helping to break down social barriers.”
Unified Sports is an integral part of Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools, which was founded in 2008 and funded through the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs at the U.S. Department of Education to use Special Olympics as a way to build inclusion and tolerance in schools. Unified Sports are now in more than 4,500 elementary, middle and high schools in the United States. Also, 215 U.S. colleges and universities have Special Olympics College Clubs on campus, providing ongoing Unified and inclusionary activities for students and Special Olympics athletes. For more information, visit: www.playunified.org.
“Our athletes are so excited to be a part of a unified sports program, and actually play with athletes of all abilities,” said Paula Gardner, Special Olympics Coordinator for Stark County Board of Developmental Disabilities. “This is a great example of how Stark DD is working to make sure that people with disabilities are fully included in their community. Our hope is to launch more Stark County unified teams in the various sports, and eventually send these teams to compete in the State and National tournaments.”