Students Participate in Unified Sports Program
In the mid-1990s, school administrators in Connecticut created a Unified Sports program after seeing a need to provide a comfortable sports and social atmosphere after school hours for students with special needs. This program allows these students to partner with other students without disabilities and participate in a variety of sports, such as basketball, volleyball, soccer, track and field and more. What began as a program in just a few schools has now expanded to over 150 schools throughout Connecticut. Last year, there were over 2,500 athletes and over 4,000 partners who participated in Unified Sports throughout the state, including New Britain.
On Wednesday, March 12, New Britain High School hosted a Unified Sports Basketball Tournament that involved twelve schools and 22 different teams from around the state of Connecticut. Sandy Dichner, who is a gym and health teacher at the school, is also in charge of their Unified Sports program and is assisted by Pat Twomey and Ann Gail Limnios. All three have been running the program for over five years.
Last year, Dichner started a campaign to end the “r-word.” Over 2,000 students at New Britain High School signed a pledge and received blue and orange wristbands to show their support for the campaign. This campaign, which was formed in 2009 during the Special Olympics Global Youth Summit, took on a world of its own at the school. Due to this campaign and her efforts in tournaments throughout the state and at the high school, Dichner was named the Connecticut High School Coaches Association Outstanding Coach of Unified Sports for the 2012-2013 school year.
“It’s an amazing program and the kids all enjoy each other,” Dichner said. “The regular-ed students and the special needs students form a bond that allows them to develop a long lasting friendship that they will never forget.”
George Synnott, the Assistant Unified Sports Director for the CIAC, has seen how the Unified Sports program has made an impact on hundreds of kids’ lives.
“It’s absolutely fantastic. We’ve seen tremendous positive results from the unified concept. What this provides kids with is social inclusion. Throughout the school day, there are inclusive classrooms. But when the bell rings at the end of the day, it ends the inclusion. Unified Sports provides a social inclusionary concept so they can work together where athletics becomes the core of what brings kids together.”
According to Synnott, they run tournaments throughout the year such as a soccer tournament in the fall, a volleyball tournament in April and a track and field tournament in May. This basketball tournament was one of 14 that are being held across Connecticut throughout the month of March.
In each tournament, there are five levels of play. The first and second level are for the more advanced athletes where score is kept. In the third, fourth and fifth levels, score is not kept. After the tournament, all athletes receive medals and then have the opportunity to eat dinner together in the school cafeteria.
When asked what was most rewarding about the entire program, Twomey didn’t hesitate to answer.
“Just to see the smile on our students’ faces is good enough, she said.” “The thrill when they make a basket and the sportsmanship between players and coaches is admirable and is often missing our in daily lives.”