Unified Sports: A Gateway to The Special Olympics

This article is written by journalism student, Otis Loga.

Corey Robinson throwing a Bocce ball at one Thursday practice, taken by Otis Loga



Did you know that there are a lot of different kinds of sports? U-32 doesn’t only offer the traditional sports of football and baseball and 12 others. Unified Sports is a program at U-32 that is aimed at students with mental and physical disabilities, but it is open to all.


Corey Robbins participates and helps coach Unified Sports here at U-32.  He also works for Washington County Mental Health. “I’m a school based mental health clinician. I’ve been here at U-32 for seven years,” said Corey. Corey took over the program in 2018 after Bonnie Chouinard who coached the program previously in 2018. 


Unified Sports is part of the Special Olympics and is open to everyone. “The Special Olympics welcomes all athletes with intellectual disabilities, of all ability levels, ages 8 and up.” According to the Special Olympics website. The Special Olympics is a world organization that gives people the power of sports. 


According to the Special Olympics website mission statement is “to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, giving them opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills, and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.” 


U-32 offers three different types of Unified Sports for students with disabilities, but also to everyone. “We do three seasons: we do bowling in the fall and then we do a snowshoeing season in the winter, and then we do bocce in the spring,” said Corey. 


“Typically, we try to get anywhere from 8 to 10 athletes which means we need 8 to 10 partners, especially during bowling and bocce; those are our two most our two most popular seasons,” said Corey. “It depends a lot on how many adults can help me supervise the program. There are some students that in order to participate need a one-on-one adult with them.”


It might seem like a small team but, according to the Special Olympics website there are as many as 200 million people with intellectual disabilities around the world.”


Jacob Peake, a U-32 10th grader, started doing Unified Sports here at U-32 in 7th grade. He participated when he was in elementary school. He enjoys doing the program because he gets to “hang out with people,” said Jacob. 


Jacob wishes that more people participated. He also stated that “you build a friendship with people you wouldn’t normally build a friendship with. You get to meet new people.”


Jacob Peek at Thursday practice, taken by Otis


Another kind of Olympics is the Paralympics. According to the Team USA Website. “The USOPC is focused on protecting, supporting, and empowering America’s athletes, and is responsible for fielding U.S. teams for the Olympic, Paralympic, Youth Olympic, Pan American, and Parapan American Games, and serving as the steward of the Olympic and Paralympic movements in the U.S.” There are so many different kinds of Olympics for all different body types. Paralympics are mostly aimed at people to compete in their sport with a limb deficiency or physical disability. “Paralympic athletes must fulfill certain criteria and meet qualifying standards in order to be eligible,” according to an August 24, 2021, NPR News article. 


“The main difference between Special Olympics and Paralympics is the philosophy and the type of athletes that participate,” said Corey


The Paralympics and Special Olympics are two different organizations but both focus on providing sports to people with disabilities. According to a 2016 Special Olympics article.  “Special Olympics and Paralympics are two separate organizations recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). They are similar in that they both focus on sports for athletes with a disability.”


The philosophy of both is to encourage young athletes to participate through the power of sport. Special Olympics are open for all people with physical and intellectual disabilities who would like to be a part of a team to be included in sports. 


To make sports as even as possible “in Paralympic sports, athletes are grouped together by ‘the degree of activity limitation’ resulting from their impairment” according to an August 24, 2021 NPR News article. Which makes everyone equal on the same playing field. 


Bocce practice on school grounds, taken by Otis


The Paralympics are mostly reserved for athletes that have a physical disability and want to compete at a higher level that keeps track of times and qualifications. “Paralympics are mostly reserved for elite athletes who have to qualify based on times and scores,” said Corey. 


In the past year, there have been many U-32 students that came through the building that did not only participate in the Unified Sports with the school community but also participated in their own sports in other communities and organizations. 


Kyler Quelch, a former student that graduated in 2021, has participated in sled hockey since 2013 with the Central Vermont Pioneers.


Kyler did not participate in the U-32’s Unified Sports, but instead, he joined an outside organization based in Vermont. He shared his experiences with his TA and his school community. “I skated at the Civic Center and my TA group tried it out,” said Kyler. “I’ve played ever since.”


Sled Hockey is a very popular paralympic sport. “Sled hockey has become a fan favorite ever since it was introduced as a medal sport in the 1994 Paralympic Games in Lillehammer,” said the Team USA sled hockey homepage website.

If you are interested and want to find out more ideas on how to participate with U32s Unified Sports please contact Corey Robertson at crobbins@u32.org.  Also, if you are interested in learning more about the Paralympics and Special Olympics at a national level You can contact the USOPC at Phone number 719-866-2030.

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