Unified sports league hosts home meet today; positive program at NW grows

posted May 3, 2017, 8:53 AM by nwsdnews@nwsd.org   [ updated May 3, 2017, 8:53 AM by NWSD District ]

Northwestern High School’s Unified Sports League track and field team will host a meet versus McDowell, Central Tech and Girard high schools today at 4 p.m.

“The team is truly amazing – there are so many good things that have happened,” Northwestern high school teacher and co-head coach Michelle Ruland said. “Mostly being able to witness the unity of the team and watching faces of students when they accomplish something they didn’t know they could do.”

Special Olympics Pennsylvania’s Unified Sports league combines students with intellectual disabilities and student athletes without intellectual disabilities (called Partners) on sports teams for training and competition. Age and ability matching of athletes and partners is defined on a sport-by-sport basis.

“This is something fun to do that’s not quite as competitive – it’s always a very supportive environment,” senior Partner team member Eleanor Thorpe said.

Ruland said many students have left their comfort zone joining the team, which includes more nearly 20 members at Northwestern.

The concept of combining athletes with intellectual disabilities and those without was first introduced in the mid-1980s to provide another level of challenge for higher ability athletes and to promote equality and inclusion.

The Unified Sports program started in Erie County in 2014. County schools participating in the league today include General McLane, Fairview, McDowell, Central Tech, Girard and Northwestern.

Northwestern Life Skills Job Coach Program Coordinator Chris Zurinsky co-head coaches with Ruland. High school Life Skills teacher Sandy Pavolko and math teacher Annakaye Fenell are assistant coaches.

Ruland said her goal is to pack the stands today at the team's only home meet of the season.

NWSD District,
May 3, 2017, 8:53 AM