Unified P.E.: A Personal Perspective

Since 2017 when the program first began at South by life skills teachers Brennan Young and Sam Domina, and teacher and coach Alisha Murdoch, Unified P.E. has been a place for kids of all ages and abilities to come together and compete. The class has educated, inspired and changed the way intellectual disabilities are viewed at South.

During class, the opportunity to play for high school students with and without intellectual disabilities are presented everyday. Throughout the year we work on football, kickball, softball, and basketball. After given the opportunity to practice our skills in a team we then move on to competing in the game. The games are fun because everyone gets a chance to play, it is about getting everyone involved and supporting your teammates to do the best you can, but it is not just about the game.

The chance to play with equal opportunity is life changing for both the athletes and their partners. As a partner I can say first hand that the interactions I have with the kids in this class will be with me forever. Watching everyone in the class have a safe place to play the sports they love in a competitive environment is amazing, it changes your perspective. Josie Ferry, a South graduate who participated in the first Unified sports class is thankful for the opportunity to be a part of something so life changing.

“The class not only helped me decide what I wanted to do with my career but also showed me that students in classes such as unified sports can have fun just like regular P.E. classes. I was able to help coach and play alongside so many new friends and it helped show that I really enjoyed helping and teaching other people. Unified sports opened my eyes on how to treat everyone with respect, everyone deserves respect whether it’s through a sport or in the classroom.” Ferry said. Everyday I get the chance to interact and build amazing relationships with the athletes, my fellow partners and the coaches. For some athletes the class means getting the opportunity to play sports on a competitive team. For others it means having fun and building new relationships. A chance to represent South as a competitive athlete is a rewarding experience, one that kids with disabilities don’t get the opportunity to do very often.

“Unified sports isn’t about just having equality, but giving true equality to the community at South,” Domina said. Unified P.E. has been a great resource for raising awareness and encouraging respect to everyone at South Salem. The class has had the opportunities to play in football and basketball tournaments which results in a championship game at the end of the unit. The championship game is played in front of the school where all the other classes have the option to come and support. The game is run like other varsity basketball and football games. During the game, some students make posters and chant traditional Saxon cheers from the sidelines.

In order to help support the Unified program, South decided to participate in the Special Olympics Polar Plunge on Feb. 16. During the plunge teams dressed up in fun costumes and plunged into freezing cold water at the Crystal Lake Sports Park & Boat Ramp in Corvallis. South received 50 percent of all the money raised by participants to be used for the Unified Sports program. Prizes are also rewarded to the team and individual who raises the most money and to the best costume of the day. South raised $6,057, placing us at the second highest fundraising team with nearly 50 plungers. Unified sports has changed my perspective and awakened new priorities in my life. As a competitive athlete I have grown up my whole life playing and competing on sports teams. I have won more times than I can count and lost more times than I care to admit. Often I take my ability and talents for granted.

I go about my day identifying myself as an athlete and taking pride in my accomplishments, but sometimes the excitement of competing gets lost between winning and losing. Many times I take these achievements for granted and overlook my passion for the sport. I often overlook the simplicity of just loving what you are doing. Playing in unified has challenged me to reevaluate why I play the sports I do and why I love to play them. This year, the class was able to get enough players to start an official Unified Basketball team. The team roster is made up of 20 players, including 10 unified partners who play alongside athletes with intellectual disabilities and head coached by Sam Domina.

On Feb. 23, a few members from the Unified P.E. class traveled to the University of Oregon campus to compete in a Special Olympics Regional basketball tournament. On the team we carried four partners and seven athletes to compete in the tournament. I have woken up at seven in the morning with a dozen teams for countless tournaments, but it has been a long time since I felt the energy and excitement that these kids had on the bus. Each game we played was played as a team, everyone had a lot of fun. We ended up placing fourth in the tournament and received green ribbons, which the kids loved.

Gabby Baker ‘20, a partner in the class and aide for Mr. Young is devoted to making South a unified school. This year is the first year South has become a nationally recognized school for unified sports and the Respect Campaign. Baker ‘20 has helped organize a Respect campaign to help raise awareness and educate other students on the effects of using the term “retard.”  The assembly will take place on March 20 to kick off the beginning of spring break. The Respect Campaign includes a pledge to devoting yourself to making the world a better place by changing the ways we respect ourselves and others.

The assembly will take place on March 20 to kick off the beginning of spring break. The Respect Campaign includes a pledge to devoting yourself to making the world a better place by changing the ways we respect ourselves and others.

Teacher/Adviser South Salem High School

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