Law Unified Sports program grows together

Unified Sports at Law High offers special needs athletes a chance to be a part of a team and compete, while allowing their peers — partners who assist them during practice and game play — an opportunity to take on leadership roles.

This past spring featured volleyball and track and field, giving the participants plenty of chances to work on skills and interact.

“They grow so quickly. They learn so fast,” said coach Sharon Kish. “They all know each other. They recognize players from other teams and it’s always so much fun to see each other again and again,” Kish said.

Unified Sports opens the door to special needs athletes and the partners to get a feel for a variety of sports.

Law has soccer in the fall, basketball in the winter, and some Wiffle ball is mixed in as well.

“They learn the different rules of each of the games as the season’s progress,” coach Kathy O’Connell said.

In addition to instructing the student-athletes on the rules of the game, coaches work with the participants to encourage them.

“We try to teach them that by just being out there you’re a winner,” said O’Connell, adding that  the participants also look forward to end-of-season pizza parties.

Myles Boyd, a first year partner in the program, heard great things about Unified Sports from his sister, Ciara Boyd, who is also a partner. Myles is considering a career in special education and saw getting involved with Unified Sports as a possible step toward his future.

“I thought it would be a great way to get an entry into that,” Myles said. “It gives me a chance to play too.”

Partners participate in competitions, but mostly work with the athletes and make sure they all get chances to be in on the action to score in soccer or basketball, and keep the play going in volleyball, for example.

Partners earn community service credits for their involvement, but they seem to get a lot out of the experience such that the credits are secondary.

“For me, it doesn’t even feel like community service. I was just doing this because I wanted to,” first-year partner Lillia Downing said. “I really like playing sports with the kids. It’s a great opportunity for them to be involved in sports, too.”

“It really is a lot of fun,” Kish said.

Members of Law’s Unified Sports volleyball team are: athletes Richard Anderson, Slade Brogga, Hunter Cain, Luigi DeCastro, Atul Joseph, Richie McGrath and Kristen Parks; and partners Ciara Boyd, Myles Boyd, Lillia Downing and Matthew Mainieri. Coaches are Patricia Daniels, Kathy O'Connell, Chris Pastick, Sharon Kish and Sandy Stevens.