Throughout the country, the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) and Special Olympics work together to advance inclusion programs for students with intellectual disabilities. The two organizations aim to increase the participation of students with intellectual disabilities in interscholastic Special Olympics Unified Sports® and support partnerships between NFHS member state associations and Special Olympics Programs.
This summer, over 30 high school Unified Sports® teams will have the unique opportunity to compete at the Special Olympics USA Games in Orlando. High school divisions will be offered in the sports of basketball, soccer, and athletics. A couple of these teams include Yukon High School from Oklahoma and Wasatch High School from Utah.
The first Special Olympics Unified Champion School in Oklahoma, Yukon High School, has set the bar high in its efforts around inclusive programming and Unified Sports®, specifically soccer. The Yukon High School Unified Millers soccer team is supported by all members of the school community, from students to teachers, but the reach of Unified Sports® extends beyond the school walls. The Millers had the privilege of mentorship by the Oklahoma City Energy, the Major League Soccer team. Their dedication and learning from the pros helped earned them the honor of winning the gold medal at state-level Special Olympics Oklahoma competitions and being named a two-time national banner school.
Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools® aims to promote social inclusion through intentionally planned and implemented activities affecting systems-wide change. To become a banner school, a Unified Champion School demonstrates a commitment to inclusion by meeting 10 national standards of excellence.
The work and inclusion efforts at Yukon High School have paved the way for other schools in the state of Oklahoma to become Banner Unified Champion Schools.
In Utah, Wasatch High School is also committed to interscholastic Unified Sports, participating in all three Unified Sports which Special Olympics Utah offers in partnership with the Utah High School Activities Association (UHSAA), finding their niche in Unified basketball, and engaging key community partners along the way. With the support of Utah First Lady Abby Cox and her media contacts, the school was able to announce to the entire student body that the Unified basketball team would compete at the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games.
Wasatch High School’s excellence has been recognized beyond Special Olympics. In 2021, Unified head coach Sami Graham was awarded the Utah High School Activities Association (UHSAA) 5A Coach of the Year, making history as the first time a Unified Sports® coach has received this esteemed award.
Thanks to support from the NFHS, programs like the ones at Yukon High School and Wasatch High School provide the necessary leadership and advocacy to make the school community a more inclusive space.
To learn more about the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games, visit www.2022specialolympicsusagames.org.
For more information about Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools®, please visit GenerationUnified.org.