Unified Sports Offer Something for Everyone

Jack Holdsworth and Kyra Ford

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Unified Sports Offer Something for Everyone

Jack Holdsworth, Staff Writer

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With over 60 after school clubs, activities, and athletics programs, NFA offers something for everyone, including students with physical and intellectual disabilities.

The NFA Unified Athletics program is a program that brings students with and without intellectual disabilities together over a shared athletic interest.

“It hasn’t always been the case that kids with and without disabilities get to interact together.  Setting up a program like this allows that to happen in a really natural way,” said NFA Unified Athletics Head Coach, Christopher Staley.

The Unified team is structured in a way that balances the skill, talent, and ability of the athletes.

“All of our teams are balanced and made up of students with and without some sort of intellectual disability, and then, within each group, we try to make it so that each of our teams [has] students with similar abilities and skills playing together,” said Staley.

The Unified Athletics Program offers three seasons of sports to its athletes: soccer in the fall, basketball in the winter, and volleyball and track in the Spring. The current Unified basketball team has 70 participants, who share a unique bond in their participation on the team,

“I made a lot of good friendships with both the athletes and the partners because everybody who is a part of this program is just an all-around great person, and all of them care about what they are doing,” said upper Brooke Rondeau.

Staley said that the Unified Program at NFA has a lot of participation from the NFA community, but it wishes that it was more visible.

“If you tell somebody that you play basketball, they know right away, but if you tell someone that you play Unified [sports], it might be the first time they are hearing about it, or they might not totally know what it is,” Staley explained, adding that there are still a lot of participants in the program.

“We are very lucky at NFA. We have a very supportive student body.  For basketball, we have about 70 students that are signed up. It’s a program that a lot of students are interested in being a part of, and on campus, people do a great job of getting the word out about Unified.”

The NFA Unified Program was created over 20 years ago. Staley has been coaching for 16 years, since 2001.

“When I first started working here, I was helping out in a classroom, and I used to go to gym class with some of the students I was working with,” Staley explained.

After seeing the positive experiences that the students with intellectual disabilities were having, making friendships, and developing athletics skills, Staley said that he knew he needed to get involved, helping Lauren Walling, an NFA PE teacher, and the Unified head coach at the time, as an assistant coach.

“I just really wanted to be a part of it, because I loved the sort of positive message, and using sports to make connections, I thought it was great” Staley said.

The Unified Athletics program means more than any other activity to many of its participants.

“I love playing on the team, especially running,” commented senior participant Alison Black.

Lower Sam Beebe said that he enjoys “dribbling the ball and shooting baskets” while playing on the Unified basketball team.

Coach Staley said that the best part of the Unified Program for its participants is “building skills and being competitive, but also connecting, and  sort of building friendships and doing the things that sports are all about. It’s nice because everybody wants to win and wants to do well, but also everybody  gets to see the bigger picture and see that it is the journey that is important, and not winning or losing.”