Ever since Unified Sports were adopted in 1989 by the Special Olympics, they have permeated 4,500 elementary, middle and high schools, including our own according to specialolympic.net.
The WHS LEAP (Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnership) program adopted Unified Sports in 2017. The first sports to be adopted were track and field and basketball, however, now it is evolving to encompass other sports such as kickball.
“It gives typical students a look at the different personalities that the kids have and has gotten them more involved,” said Kathy Tinker, a teacher in the LEAP program, “I think it has brought a lot of kids out of their shells to interact with kids they normally wouldn’t.”
This interaction has coincidentally sparked greater inclusivity at WHS, with students being better respected for their differences. The week of Dec. 2-6 was Inclusivity Week and was celebrated with a number of unified sports events including a dance performance on Dec 6 at lunch in the amphitheater.
Josh Landenheim ‘23 a LEAP student, believes the Unified Sports experience has been “a lot of fun”.
He is on Sparkles Cheer, a cheer squad for LEAP students and participated in the Dec. 6 dance performance.
These students day to day lives have improved due to the awareness of the ability they have as LEAP students to be a part of their school environment. According to Tinker, since its introduction in 2017, the LEAP students have been happier and feel more included.
“It makes me feel better about sports [and] it makes me feel proud to enjoy the unified team.” said Zahamit Kisson ‘21
Unified Sports events are expected to continue with basketball against Newbury Park High School on Feb. 7 and Soccer against Thousand Oaks High School on April 24.
“I think we should do more stuff that includes them, I think it is great for them,” said Tinker. “I think it gets them out of their shell.”