Unity in Unified sports

Feature Photo By: Kaly Warner – A Rangeview unified member rockets a pass in a game against Overland. The basketball team just recently placed 6th in a statewide tournament.

By: Justin Morris, Review Staff

At times, having a mental disability can  limit one’s opportunities to get involved in extracurricular activities at school, and at Rangeview High School, opportunities for students with mental disabilities – especially in the sporting world – are sparse.

This is where Ms. Warner, head of Rangeview’s Instructional Learning Program (ILP), saw a problem, and began looking for a creative solution. She was soon led to her discovery of the Unified Sports program. Sponsored by the Special Olympics and funded by the US Department of Education, the Unified initiative was created to provide disabled students with additional opportunities to get involved in sports and eliminate “neglect and discrimination.” It also gives the students a means to connect with students who don’t have disabilities.

“We thought the idea [of having kids with disabilities on sports teams] sounded awesome! When [the ILP teachers] heard about it, we wanted to get it started for Aurora Public Schools,” explained Warner. “It’s made the kids so much more excited to come to school… I can connect their academics to [sports] ideas like sportsmanship and attitude, and it’s really made a huge difference in our community.”

Unified team stretches before practice. This is the second year that Unified Sports has been established at Rangeview. (Jorion Marshall)

James Beard, a senior student in ILP, asserted that the program has impacted him positively.

“It’s been fun, and there’s been a lot of good times we’ve had,” Beard said.

While not every student in the ILP plays on Rangeview’s unified team, many have found joy in their contributions to the team off the field, such as manager Niya Downing, also a senior.

“It feels great. I get water for them, take jerseys, and wash clothes,” Downing explained. “Even though I don’t like playing basketball, it feels good to help them keep up the good work.”

The Unified program has been instrumental in the work ethic and attitude of the participating students, not only allowing them to broaden their social horizons, but giving them personal tools to help them succeed in life after high school, according to Ms. Warner

The unifying effects of the program have been displayed through the squad’s undefeated finish during the football season and it’s hot start as the basketball schedule begins. The group is coming off of a 6th place finish in a 31-team tournament and has a Special Olympics statewide tournament on February 19th. Also, like Rangeview’s other sports teams, they have an upcoming match-up with crosstown rival Gateway circled on their calendar.

For more information on Rangeview’s unified sports team and to find out how you can get involved, see Ms. Warner or visit http://www.playunified.org/.