On an early Thursday morning, student athletes from Alain LeRoy Locke College Preparatory Academy’s Unified Sports Track and Field team, boarded their bus anxious, but eager to compete as a team for the first time. Unified Sports is an inclusive sports program where student athletes with and without disabilities play and compete together. “Unified Sports is very important because sports for special education students is nearly non-existent, the current setup doesn't allow for their participation,” said Ross Moore, Adaptive Physical Education Specialist, and track and field coach at Locke. “It's extremely important to provide an opportunity that everyone can participate in.”
The meet featured a series of events: a 100-meter dash, 200-meter sprint, 4x100 meter relay, long jump, and a shot put event. As some students nervously prepared for their chance to throw the shot put, Kynneth Nettles, a tenth grade student at Locke remained confident. When asked why he was so calm he revealed his mantra: “Be confident, be brave and don’t give up what you love most.”
Like many other students participating in the Unified Sports track meet, this was Nettles first time being on a sports team and competing alongside other schools. “Unified Sports is good because we need to exercise and there's a lot of different activities to do,” beamed Nettles.
All Means All
In preparation for their first track meet, students participated in a number of practice sessions. Moore coached students through a variety of drills to develop fundamental skills while teaching them a range of techniques. However, the most critical component of practice was developing friendships. Moore and the team spent the first few practices working on building and developing team chemistry. Through thoughtful team building activities, Moore provided unique opportunities for his student athletes to become better acquainted with one another and establish a sturdy foundation of friendship. Despite the competitive nature of track and field, winning wasn’t the focus for Moore as he coached Locke students. “My main focus is on creating a safe and accepting environment for everyone,” declared Moore. A sports education teaches students to maintain their physical health and build their communication skills, while also reinforcing habits of discipline and willpower.
In the months leading up to the event, Jakoby Crowfield, a senior at Locke and linebacker on Locke’s football team, practiced with his Unified Sports partners every week. Together they developed techniques and improved their strength and endurance. “I love everyone's energy. At Locke, Unified Sports brings everyone together, there is no separation-- the unity it brings is my favorite thing,” said Crowfield. Unified Sports ensures that regardless of a student's disabilities anyone can be physically active and benefit from a sports education.
This program has brought students at Locke closer together and sparked a series of inclusion events on campus. “Unified Sports hasn’t changed the way I view people with disabilities because I never viewed them as different because we're all people. What Unified Sports has done for me, is help bring me closer to other Locke students,” reflected Crowfield.
Let the Games Begin
“The inclusiveness brings awareness about what's going on in our community. We all face different challenges in life, but knowing that someone is there to support you really uplifts all of our students, our community and school,” said Lawrence Totimeh, physical education teacher at Locke. “This is one of the greatest things I’ve been a part of at Locke.”
With the track and field season ending, Moore and the physical education teachers at Locke are already planning out how they can expand Unified Sports at the school. Next year’s goal is for the Unified Sports season to mirror Locke’s existing athletics seasons while continuing to raise awareness and acceptance on campus. Unified Sports has helped break down barriers that have excluded students with disabilities from participating in athletic teams. We are proud of the Unified Sports Track and Field team and look forward to seeing the program grow.
At Green Dot, special education is a program, and not “a place” for students. Our network of schools serves more than 1,300 students with disabilities, each of whom receives services and support through an individualized education program administered through a variety of channels. These services and methods help cultivate a learning environment that promotes inclusion, diversity, and leadership. Unified Sports helps further our mission to break down stereotypes about people with disabilities, and underscores our belief that all students means all.