There seems to be a culture that has developed around unified sports programs in the state.
Unified sports programs join youngsters with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team. Unified is a division of Special Olympics.
Legend, Chaparral, Regis Jesuit and Smoky Hill were among the eight Colorado high schools to be named 2019 National Banner Unified Champion schools.
Legend has 15 disabled athletes, and the able-bodied kids that volunteer to help are called partners. Legend has five unified sports (soccer, basketball, flag football, bowling and track and field) and hopes to add cheerleading to the list
Shelly Boyd is the unified coach and Significant Support Needs teacher at Legend, and has two assistant coaches in Karen Forbes and Jeremy Dorr.
“We get partners through word of mouth,” said Boyd. “Jeremy and I started with no partners and then we went to five and we have 60 now. Sometimes we feel like we don’t have enough sports because we have so many partners.
“It has just turned into a beautiful program. It’s just the culture we have in the building. In the classroom we call them peer aides, so some of them are peer aides and partners, they get to know the kids and fall in love with the kids. We are blessed that we have a school that supports us. We are treated like any other sports program at the school.”
Larry Bull is the Cherry Creek district athletic director, and all the district schools have unified programs.
“I believe unified sports has changed the cultures at schools,” said Bull. “It’s just the excitement for everybody involved, the happiness, the kindness and inclusion. It’s a difference maker. It’s one of the best things we do.
“When you start talking unified sports, take it out into the hallway, where you see kids walking down the hall high-fiving kids with disabilities because of the unified programs.”
The Colorado High School Activities Association will sanction unified bowling as a sport next year and the CHSAA has matches, races and games at many of its events.
“People are recognizing there are kiddos within their schools that can participate on different levels and are going out and seeking them,” said CHSAA Assistant Commissioner Jenn Roberts-Uhling.
And Boyd points out that all participants are rewarded.
“They (disabled players) love it and the parents love it,” she said. “The parents are just so thankful. The students with disabilities want to be just like every other kid out there. When they get to be around partners, they are just their friends, they don’t see a difference.
“We think the neurotypical kids are helping the kids with disabilities. It turns around where the disability kids have helped them become better people.”
Athletes of the Year
Anna Hall and Cohlton Schultz will be honored at the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame induction banquet on April 23.
Hall, of Valor Christian, is the high school girls Athlete of the Year. She won two individual medals plus ran on two title relay teams at last spring’s state track meet and earlier set a national high school heptathlon indoor record. She is now on the track team at Georgia.
Schultz was a four-time state wrestling champion at Ponderosa and went 188-2 with 115 pins in high school as a 285-pounder and heavyweight. He is now at Arizona State.
Each week, performances of South Metro athletes and teams will be highlighted. This week’s performances were selected from games, matches and meets held between Jan.10 and Jan. 16.
Senior Kobe Sanders scored 40 points as Chaparral, ranked 10th in the CHSAANow.com poll, defeated No. 5 Columbine in a Jan. 14 boys basketball game.
Cali Clark scored 19 points and Jana Van Gytenbeek added 18 as Cherry Creek, the top-ranked girls 5A basketball team, rallied to down fourth-ranked Highlands Ranch, 53-49, on Jan. 10. Taylor Ray of Highlands Ranch took scoring honors with 21 points.
Calvin Root had two goals and two assists to lead the Mountain Vista hockey team to a 6-3 win over Battle Mountain on Jan. 16.
Heritage won the Smoky Hill Invitational girls swim meet on Jan. 11 as Inge Ehm took first in the 100 butterfly, Aislyn Barnett in the 100 breaststroke and Anna Hall in the 200 IM.
Junior Aj Kula had 18 points, which included four 3-point baskets, six assists and two steals, in Valor Christian’s 71-62 boys basketball win over Rock Canyon on Jan. 14.
Jim Benton is a sports writer for Colorado Community Media. He has been covering sports in the Denver area since 1968. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 303-566-4083.
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