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Unified in the Olympic spirit

Daily Hampshire Gazette - 6/12/2018

For the Gazette

NORTHAMPTON — Over 200 students of all ages and abilities from eight different school districts participated in modified track and field events, an obstacle course and lawn games Monday at the first Unified Special Olympics School Day Games held at Northampton High School.

The games have been hosted by NHS in past years, but this is the first year that the events were unified, meaning students with disabilities participated on teams alongside peers without disabilities.

Superintendent of Northampton Public Schools John Provost said the school day games are one of his favorite events of the year, and that this year was the best one yet because it was unified.

“Having unified teams allows us to live up to our core value of inclusion,” Provost said, giving all students, regardless of ability, the opportunity to participate in sports together as peers and equals.

Two NHS students kicked off the event by carrying the Special Olympics Flame of Hope, a symbol of respect and inclusion. Participants then traveled to their first station while “The Warrior’s Code” by Dropkick Murphys played in the background, a song chosen by Provost.

“I see a whole field full of warriors in front of me,” said Provost. “Anybody who’s involved in special education, whether you’re a student, staff, faculty or administrator, you’re a warrior.”

Friends, family, teachers and other school staff members cheered on students as they completed events including the long jump, 50-yard dash, bowling and ladder toss. Events were made accessible to students of all abilities. For example, students from the high school’s woodshop department designed a catapult for students who are unable to throw a ball on their own so they could participate in the throwing events.

Hugs and high-fives were given frequently and athletes had smiles on their faces as they danced to music chosen by the student participants. The support for athletes could even be seen on the fences surrounding the track, where motivational signs hung with phrases such as “You can do it!” “I believe in you,” and “You’re awesome.”

Grace Zuchowski, 17, was one of 25 NHS students who volunteered to run stations at the event.

“I love seeing the excitement on the kids’ faces,” Zuchowski said. “Seeing them so happy makes me happy.”

The Special Olympics is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, so all volunteers wore special 50th anniversary shirts with the words “game changer” on the back. Special Olympics director of sport and fitness Jon Scully said, “For us, our volunteers and the youth are what’s changing the game for all of our athletes and creating acceptance and inclusion for the next 50 years.”

To continue the spirit of inclusion and acceptance of the Unified School Games, Northampton High School will be starting a unified basketball team in the fall.


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