Play Unified, Live Unified!
Team sports bring people together. Special Olympics Unified Sports® teams do that too and much more -- offering the chance for people with and without intellectual disabilities to play on the same teams in a variety of sports. Whether it's Unified basketball or volleyball, tennis or track, Unified Sports events are the best way ever to break down stereotypes -- in a really fun way!
For Cate (at center), her involvement with Special Olympics Unified Sports has been "amazing" -- and she loves all the friends she's made. Her longtime Unified track teammate, Kenisha (second from left), says Cate's positive and playful attitude inspire her, especially on a bad day. Unified Sports have also given Cate the chance to master many new sports skills and become a real part of the high school sports scene. Her coach isn't surprised by the growing popularity of Unified Sports: "Isn’t that what we’re supposed to be doing – providing an opportunity for everybody to be successful?”
Andrew (right) recalls how people used to laugh at him at school -- or walk by like he didn’t exist. When he joined Special Olympics Unified track, he was able to excel in ways that made a huge difference in his life, both at school and beyond. He says he gained self-confidence -- and learned new skills. He says, "I like Unified Sports, because partners push me to be better – and to be a better athlete." He adds, "Sports helps show everyone that each person with an intellectual disability is not a 'nobody' but a 'somebody.'"
A few years ago, Vicky had never even known people with intellectual disabilities. Now, she is gettting a real sports workout in her weekly games -- and making new friends as well as baskets. And then there’s all the joy. She says, “When we get on the court or field, we are all there for the same reason – to have fun. Actually, we are also there to win that ‘gold medal!’ We are all competitors.” Vicky, a U.S. Army major, is now a three-sport Unified teammate, playing basketball, volleyball and bocce. She adds, "There is no differentiating between athlete and partner, and that is why makes playing every Tuesday worth it!”
Shane used to be a lonely teen. “I was picked on,” says Shane, at right. “I felt very sad.” But that all changed after his high school began a Special Olympics Unified Sports program. Shane and other students with disabilities were welcomed on basketball and cheerleading squads, taking part in school competitions and teaming up with general education students as their Unified teammates. These Unified teams began upending the school’s often cruel social order. This change was about more than sports — for both athletes with and without intellectual disabilities. In the words of one Unified partner: "These guys are not my teammates any more; they are my friends.”
Violet and Anja are best of friends. The 4-year-olds met through the Special Olympics Young Athletes program, which brings together our littlest athletes, with and without intellectual disabilities. It teaches them about sports and friendships. For Anja, left, a bubbly and energetic kid, playing with children with intellectual disabilities is just another fun way to play and make friends. “It's kind of a passion of mine that my daughter is kind to everyone and everything and this (program) just helps open the doors when they're young,” says Anja’s mom, Erin. "The environment is incredibly positive. The smallest things get the biggest cheers.” Violet's dad adds, “There is a purity to their friendship -- they just like each other!”