SVVSD staff, teachers and school resource officers, or SROs, were on hand at the athletics field at Longmont High School Friday, to celebrate the district’s Unified sports program, Day of Champions.
Unified sports give students with special needs an opportunity to play football, basketball and other athletic activities with their peers and get coaching and encouragement from partner students.
The champions and their student partners engaged in a variety of athletic activities, including kickball, shuffleboard and tennis in the warm spring sun.
“On a typical year we offer Unified sports and activities all year, but due to COVID restrictions this was our first one,” said Chase McBride, executive director of athletics for SVVSD.
The Unified program includes all eight of SVVSD’s high schools, along with the Main Street School. The program started in 2014 as a way to promote cooperation and collaboration between students with special needs and their classmates.
Many of the parents were in attendance to celebrate with their children and cheer them on from the sidelines. Juan Salomon, whose son is a senior at Skyline High School, spoke with appreciation and admiration for the Unified program.
“It’s really, really cool that our children with special needs are able to participate, that they have these opportunities,” Salomon said. “The school district has done an amazing job with Unified sports, helping these kids feel included. And the other high school kids themselves have helped out a ton, cheerleading and being supportive for the kids with special needs.”
Busses from schools across the district brought in 150 Unified athletes, with the assistance of local police and their SROs.
“This is my first experience with the (Unified Sports program),” said Andy Fairbanks, an SRO at Frederick High School. “I got invited down by some of our teachers. We did a police escort for the school busses, shut down intersections, escorted them over to Longmont. And I get to spend my day over here cheering these kids on.”
“I haven’t done this in so long, it’s been so good to get out today. I got ten strikes in bowling with my partner today, it was my favorite thing,” said Lexie Smith, a Unified athlete from Skyline High School. “It’s a really great program, I got to meet a lot of great people and be myself.”
“I think it’s amazing that they get to be a part of everything and be included,” said Christi Santi, whose son is a Unified athlete from Erie High School. “My son was very excited, since we found out about it he’s been looking forward to it. He gets to see kids from other schools and other events. We’ve had a great experience with the partner students, it’s been a great friendship and they’ve developed this really great bond and they have fun in and out of school.”
The school district provided snacks and water for everyone in attendance, and the fields were full of smiling faces, cheers and shouts of excitement. One of the highlights was a dunk tank, where the athletes got to drop district staff and other students into frigid water. Chad Eisentrager, athletics director for Mead High School, went into the tank at least a dozen times to a chorus of laughs from his students.
“The Unified program is something that can transform an entire school,” Eisentrager said. “It partners students with our Unified athletes and it creates a cohesive, loving environment that just helps build and grow the community aspects for our schools. It’s done immeasurable help for our school and all our students.”
Due to COVID restrictions and promoting health and safety for the student body, SVVSD staff hadn’t been able to hold events for the program until now.
“The ADs, along with our executive director, Chase McBride, talked about how we wanted to do something for them because we weren’t able to do football, basketball or soccer. So we wanted to be sure we could put something on,” Eisentrager said. “So we put our brains together and put together some fun activities and sports as sort of a miniature simulation of what they could do in a normal school year. It’s been awesome for everyone here, the adults, the kids, the athletes, it’s been awesome.”