The state of Connecticut’s Unified Sports program recently recognized E.O. Smith High School as a “Unified Champion Banner” school, which is a recognition given to 31 schools across the state whose demonstrated exemplary inclusion of students with disabilities in sports programs, according to a press release.
“The banner shows that we are recognized in the same way that other CIAC (Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference) sports are recognized,” said Mary Murphy, an E.O. Smith teacher and coach of the unified basketball team.
To win the award, a school must sponsor activities that do things with, not for, students with disabilities. Additionally, it must host at least one activity designed for whole-school engagement around awareness of those with disabilities, according to the release.
The CIAC provides rules and regulations for Unified Sports teams within the state. Participants on a Unified Sports team include females and males both with and without disabilities, according to the release.
Unified Sports is a popular program at E.O. Smith, with their basketball team currently hosting over 70 participants. The program has had a large positive impact on the high school’s students, according to the release.
“These programs are what the students look forward to,” said Lauren Tofolowsky, a special education teacher and basketball coach at E.O. Smith. “It gives them the opportunity to be themselves and just have fun. It really is the highlight of their high school careers.”
Non-disabled students also benefit from the program, helping them develop friendships that they may not have had the opportunity to form outside of the program.
“They get to know students who they normally wouldn’t be able to interact with, because they maybe wouldn’t have the option to get to know a student who isn’t in their class, so it really does unite our school community and help foster those relationships,” Murphy said.
E.O. Smith hosts many other inclusion programs, including Best Buddies, which focuses on social inclusion; a unified theatre program and a unified physical education course open to both disabled and non-disabled students. In the future, the school hopes to develop unified soccer and volleyball programs, according to the release.
Towards the end of basketball season, the unified basketball team plays the staff in a large event that athletes, students and faculty all take part of. These large efforts for inclusion have resulted in a sense of community at E.O. Smith, where every student feels accepted, according to the release.
“We feel very strongly that this is an inclusive school,” Tofolowsky said. “We really feel like we have such a strong support system here at school, and the students are very active in it.”
Gabriella Debenedictis is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.