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A United Front

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A United Front

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Humbling, incredible and surprising are just a few words that Unified Partners of the unified Special Olympics team used to describe their experience.

Unified Special Olympics is an initiative that brings people with and without intellectual disabilities together on the same team. H-F offers unified soccer, basketball and track and field.

The idea was inspired by a group of passionate parents whose children were on a team in junior high and wanted to see it continue.

Special education teacher David Dore was a part of the group that founded the unified program and is in his 11th year as a coach.

“Anytime you see students engage in something they’re passionate about, you get to see them as a fuller person and vice versa,” Dore said. “It has impacted me as a teacher and a person.”

Not only did parents get the program started, but they’re also their biggest fans.

Jamie Fair’s son Jalen Fair has been playing on the team for five years.

“I’ve been to every game,” Jamie said. “I love the experience and the fact that they even have the program.”

Unified partners are recruited through “word of mouth,” and in some cases are approached by Coach Brian McLaughlin or Dore himself.

A true team The Unified soccer team participated in a tournament. The Unified program offers three seasons: soccer, basketball and track and field.

“I didn’t hesitate to say yes,” junior Unified Partner Judah Epperson said. “I knew it would be a great way to be a part of something special.”

Most Unified Partners begin playing in their upperclassmen years, but junior Tyler Schlaffer has been on the team for two years and plans to play his senior year.

“It’s a good opportunity to be able to teach and mentor,” he said.

Some of the Unified Partners have even been inspired to play on Unified teams outside of H-F.

Senior Unified Partner Maurey Garrett was recruited to play for H-F by McLaughlin at the beginning of the year, and spread the word to his sister, sophomore Myah Garrett.

“I already played soccer so I thought it would be a good opportunity,” Myah said.

“The team has taught me that even if someone has a physical or intellectual disability you should always treat everyone equally,” she said.

Since then, both have gone on to try out for the Chicago Fire Unified soccer team.

“I tried out for the team because I love soccer,” Maurey said. “Meeting new Special Olympic athletes from around the world, competitiveness and learning from some of the best players in the game were some of the things that made me want to try out..”

Maurey said he enjoyed soccer season so much he had no doubt about playing for basketball season.
Many of the Unified Partners said they’ve taken lessons and values from the unified team and used them for their other sports such as gymnastics, lacrosse and baseball.

“I do gymnastics and playing unified soccer taught me I should never underestimate my opponent, no matter what,” Myah said.

Epperson said playing unified taught him how a true team should work.

“A game cannot be won solely because of one person. An average team can do that, but a great team works together to accomplish their goal,” he said.

Schlaffer said he thinks playing unified has made his baseball teammates take him more serious and value his input, especially since he’s younger than most of his teammates.

“It’s had a big impact on me,” Schlaffer said. “I’ve gained leadership skills, it’s made me step up more and want to have a bigger role. Some seniors even look up to me.”

Victory, victory Athlete David Knot and staff celebrate a win at an H-F basketball invite. The Unified team’s victory at a tournament at Andrew High School against Thornton High School was the game they needed to go to state.

The experience not only means a lot to the unified partners, but their teammates and parents as well.
Ward Watson has been a part of the team for three years, and this is his last year on the team.

“I play for HFPD too and this team taught me how to be on a team,” Watson said. “I’ve learned to not underestimate anyone, communicate and work well with others.”

The team has an obvious chemistry, on and off the court.

Tyron Carr has also been on the team for three years but may consider taking next year off to play for an AAU team.

“We make each other better by going against each other in practice, we’re really competitive,” he said.
Kobe Sharb has only been a part of the team for a year, but said the chemistry and environment are what’s going to bring him back.

The team’s chemistry and bond has helped their success. They’ve won three championships and made it to State this season.

The unified team will be heading to state on March 16 and 17 and a fan bus will be available.


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1 Comment

One Response to “A United Front”

  1. Elizabeth Jackson on April 5th, 2018 9:13 am

    Enjoy soccer as well.

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