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Unified Sports turns all athletes into teammates

Washington kids with intellectual disabilities are no longer stuck on the sidelines thanks to a popular initiative from Special Olympics.

Unified Sports pairs kids with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team where they play soccer, flag football and other sports alongside each other. Some schools keep the competition recreational, some travel and compete against other schools.

“It’s about developing these kids and preparing them for life,” said Joe Hampson, vice president of program development at Special Olympics Washington. “It’s what sports does for anybody.”

Unified Sports got its start in Washington in 2010 with the creation of the Seattle Unified Soccer League in Seattle Public Schools’ 10 high schools. 

The program has expanded to elementary and middle schools, and by last spring, 85 schools statewide had unified soccer teams. This fall multiple schools started flag football teams, and basketball and bowling are planned for the winter.

By June, Special Olympics Washington predicts that 200 schools statewide will be involved and more sports are expected to be added.

Unified Sports — which operates internationally — was inspired by the idea that training and competing together is a quick path to understanding and friendship.

Sports is a way to bring kids with disabilities into the mainstream, helping them form meaningful connections with other kids and gain confidence, Hampson said. Plus, kids without disabilities gain awareness and compassion that can help change the climate at school.

Want to bring Unified Sports to your school? Talk with your principal or athletic director and get more information at specialolympicswashington.org.

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