Unified sports is a program that allows students with disabilities to get involved in sports as well as interact with students who do not have a disability. Unified Sports in schools, high schools, middle schools, or elementary schools is the kind of program that can make a student with a disability feel included, spread awareness, and help change the life of any athlete that participates on the program.
In 2016, my alma mater, Auburn High School, established their Unified Sports program to help promote inclusion and respect for their students who have an intellectual or physical disability. The program was an inspiration by Alison Deluca, a teacher at Auburn who has seen students with disabilities succeed in athletics. Since then, it has been getting a lot of recognition because of the students who got involved in the program and helped the special ed students feel like everyone else and never excluding them from anything else. One of the best honors Auburn has received was being recognized as a National Unified Champion School in the fall of 2018 and were given their own banner. I began to think of what could've happened if the program was established when I was a student there.
One of the best things about the Unified sports program is being able to help get the best out of a student and change their outlook on their future. With both of these things, it can also help a student break out of their comfort zone and make them feel confident to be successful. One of the students that I got to see that happen in both ways was Tim Tran, 4-year unified athlete and a member of the class of 2019 at Auburn. I can see how much this program meant to Tim and how he managed to succeed in everything possible. In return, he managed to graduate at Auburn and now he attends with me at Worcester State University with me. Without Unified Sports, I don't know where Tim would be today.
Another thing to mention about the Unified Program is how it promotes inclusion and respect for their students. The chances of any student with a disability joining a varsity high school program are small because of the competition or intensity at their level, but with Unified sports they are included. Before it was established at Auburn, only a small amount of students with disabilities participated in varsity athletics including myself and Andrew Tillery, a 2014 graduate and varsity athlete in both football and baseball. It gave Ms. Deluca the idea to establish the unified program so that students with disabilities can participate. If this didn't happen, I don't know what would have happened that led to the unified program being established.
Looking back on how far Unified sports has gone in schools including Auburn, I begin to think that it was a great move to have this program being made. Without this program, I don't know what would've happened to several of the special ed kids I've seen come and through this program. Going into another year this spring, I am hoping that some of the athletes, partners or athletes, be able to help keep promoting inclusion as well as acceptance for kids in the future, some that can be inspired to participate throughout their years. I just wish that this program was around when I was a student because it would have given me confidence to be successful. In conclusion, having a unified program in school, hopefully in our middle school, is something that be a life changer for students with disabilities.
Mike Kelley is a 2014 graduate of Auburn High School in Auburn, Massachusetts and played on the Varsity football team for 3 seasons as the first special needs student to play on the team. He is now an assistant coach of the Auburn High School Unified Track & Field team. He competes in Special Olympics Massachusetts in the sports of bowling, swimming, basketball, flag football and softball and is a student at Worcester State University studying communications.