Some achievements are not told about by the mouths of those who actually achieved it. These moments can be captured by the others who help them achieve the goal, the organization, and the coach himself.
Heritage High School offers a variety of sports in Spring to those who are eligible to participate. Basketball, soccer, volleyball, baseball, and that is just a handful. In order to become a team member they need to have the grades, the talent, and the ability to put their dedication and time towards the sport. Some students, however, are not given a chance to show what they got. Finally, 4 years ago, they were given the spotlight to flaunt what they got and forget what they do not, despite their disabilities.
The Special Olympics offers a program to Contra Costa County called Unified Sports, run by Cathy Domanski, vice president of the School Partnership program. The program offers soccer, bowling, and basketball to students with intellectual disabilities at Heritage, and all high schools abroad. The organization provides a special opportunity for these students so they can have the same chances as those of general education.
“Special Olympics Northern California is dedicated to providing athletic opportunities to school-age children with intellectual disabilities; to foster a better understanding amongst their non-disabled peers; and to instill in all students the confidence needed to succeed in life. Through sports, we are bringing special education students and general education students on the same playing field, promoting acceptance and respect for all learners,” said Domanski.
The organization goals are to defeat the misconceptions towards students with intellectual disabilities, promote healthy activities, and eliminate stereotypes, thereby helping all students feel safer and more connected to their schools. By doing this, the foundation is striving to show general education students that the difference between them and students with ID is slim, and that they can do sports just as well as general ed students, most likely with more enthusiasm too.
“Special Olympics offers opportunity for students with special needs to participate in sports. Special Olympics focuses on what students with special needs can do, not what they can’t do. The smallest of feats bring the biggest joy,” said Mr. Wortinger, coach for all Unified Sports at Heritage.
Not only do this give a special opportunity for these students, it creates a bond between them and general education students as well as defeat negative stereotypes. It also gives general education students the chance to see that life skill students can do just what they can do, for them to witness that because they are labeled as disabled does not make them any less capable at doing sports.
“I love unified so much because it has changed the way I look at people with special needs. Because if I have learned anything from this there are by no means disabled can play any sport, do anything, just as fantastic as anybody else,” said Travis Mendez (12), general education helper in soccer and bowling so far.
Within the objective of the Special Olympics Unified Sports program, the helpers and what joy they bring their special needs peers, and the mission statement engraved in all the thoughts that the volunteers and parents have, nothing is more important than the feeling of fitting in with everyone else. Although these students have some trouble, no doubt, they are able to obtain the same amount of respect and achievement as anyone else.