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Requiring high school teams to allow disabled athletes to playMarch 3, 2013 @ 2:38 pm (Updated: 10:35 am - 3/4/13 )
How different would these tournament games be if developmentally disabled students were given a chance to play?
She shoots. She scores at a basketball tournament in Issaquah.
"It just makes me feel happy," says a student athlete. "Woo, I score, yeah, fun!"
Heyiwot, whose name means life, is a special needs high school student playing basketball with peers who have no developmental disabilities.
Hundreds of students participate in a unique program in the Puget Sound area, sponsored by Special Olympics, called Unified Sports.
Teams are made up of an equal number of athletes with intellectual disabilities and partners without developmental delays.
"Some of these partners are actual JV and Varsity athletes. We couldn't be more proud of them because they get it. They have a higher sense of sportsmanship, we think, because they're willing to share with the special ed kids and it's just magic," says Ron Wang.
His son is a sophomore with autism.
"The kind of barriers that labels may create just dissolve away and make it a nice picture of working together and trying to get along," Wang says. "For a life skill, a life lesson, that's pretty important."
Coach Lorie Buob, who's a high school special education teacher in Seattle, says she's seen her students grow by leaps and bounds socially because of being able to play competitively with regular kids.
"The kids are so enthusiastic," Buob says. "They're excited to be there, excited to play basketball. The games are such a big deal for them because they feel like they're a part of the school and they're on a sports team."
Parent Dagmar Obert says it's been good for her family.
"It's a way for myself as a parent to involve my children with typical peers without the anxiety of academics, while allowing a real blend of personalities and fun," says Obert. "I think by taking out the stress of performing with pencil and paper it's a unique way to build bonds between the special ed and typical peers."
With fist pumps and high fives, the special needs kids feel connected to the "outside world" and equal to their school peers as they walk the hallways.
The program is more than just a nice thing to do for some kids. It will soon be a requirement.
The U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan says students with disabilities have the right to participate in their schools' extracurricular activities, and that many school districts are failing to give students with disabilities an equal opportunity to participate in athletics.
Earlier this year, the Department's Office for Civil Rights issued guidance clarifying school districts' legal obligations to provide equal access to extracurricular athletic activities to students with disabilities.
The letter cites an example of a violation. The coach decides - based on his understanding of the student's learning disability - he or she would be unable to play successfully under the time constraints and pressures of an actual game. Based on this assumption, the coach decides never to play this student during games. In his opinion, participating fully in all the team practice sessions is good enough.
That coach is violating the intent of the law, according to the Education Department.
Not all special ed students will want to play on school sports teams, but if they have the ability and the desire they must be given a chance.
"I think everybody should get a chance to play," says Evan Porcincula who is a partner playing on the Unified basketball team, has played Unified soccer and is captain of his high school tennis team. "Not everyone gets a chance to play at the Tacoma Dome, but this gives them another opportunity get out there, have fun and enjoy sports."
By LINDA THOMAS
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