May 18, 2018
THEY’VE GOT GAME – A student in the life skills class at Center for Inquiry School 27 works on his ball-throwing skills during a recent practice for the Unified Game Days through Special Olympics Indiana. The games will be hosted May 29-June 1 at Arsenal Technical High School, 1500 E. Michigan St. Below, a student works on her long jump and other works on the hurdles during practice.
High-fives and big smiles have been on full display for months at Center for Inquiry School 27, where students have been practicing and preparing to participate in the upcoming Special Olympics Unified Game Days.
Students of varying abilities have been jumping hurdles, throwing balls and perfecting their long jumps in anticipation of the May 29-June 1 games at Arsenal Technical High School, 1500 E. Michigan St. The event runs from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and is free and open to the public.
More than 10 IPS schools will participate. Only Pre-K students will compete May 29; students in K-8 will compete May 30 through June 1.
Founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver in 1968, Special Olympics is an international organization that promotes understanding, acceptance and inclusion between people with and without intellectual disabilities.
Johnathan M., a special needs student at CFI 27 and member of the boys track team, has been practicing hurdles for nearly six months. He was reluctant to talk about the experience during a recent practice, but was visibly proud as onlookers erupted in applause and cheered
at his efforts.
One of the onlookers was Dominique Booth, a former Arsenal Technical student who also serves as the Special Olympics coordinator assigned to IPS. Booth assists district teachers and coaches in completing the necessary paperwork and teaching them the movements that each student will need to learn in order to compete.
“Young kids with disabilities can take pride in this,” said Booth. “They don’t have to worry about anything holding them back; they can just focus on how far they can go.”
Booth has always had a relationship with special education and athletics.
“My dad has always been involved with Special Olympics, and I’ve seen firsthand that people with disabilities still have a love for things, have passions, and get excited about the things that bring them joy,” he said. “That’s real no matter what your cognitive situation is.”
Booth’s dad is director of Unified Champion Schools for Special Olympics Indiana — one of more than 50 Special Olympics affiliates in North America.
Although Special Olympics has been around since the late 1960s, this is the first year IPS Pre-K through Grade 8 students will participate in the games. IPS high school students have participated in Unified Track and Field through the Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) for several years.
“This is Indiana’s first urban Special Olympics program, and that’s weird for me even to say,” said Booth. “There are all these athletic kids around here, and no one has thought to let them physically compete and be what they can be? These kids don’t have AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) sports. They don’t get a chance to be in regular recreational leagues, because no one wants to take time with them. In what setting is someone going to have the time and patience to ensure that these kids have the life that they deserve? If anywhere, that should be in school.”
IPS Special Education Officer Brent Freeman agrees.
“We are participating in unified Special Olympics because we believe in providing extracurricular opportunities for students of all abilities,” said Freeman. “Unified Sports through Special Olympics are a wonderful way to do just what the name implies: unify students with disabilities and their peers through fun competition.”
Fifteen IPS Pre-K–8 schools have been practicing since November to prepare for the Unified Game Days, which begin later this month. Although Special Olympics Indiana offers athletic competition in more than 20 Olympic-type sports, Freeman said IPS students will participate exclusively in Unified Track and Field during its first year in the program. However, he is open in the future to expanding participation in other sports.
“Special Olympics reinforces teamwork, communication, goal setting and other valuable skills,” said Freeman. “Students have been practicing and are eager to represent their schools. We want our students in IPS to have as many opportunities as possible to participate in sports.”
Devin Langbeen, Intermediate Life Skills teacher at CFI 27, was involved with Special Olympics in college and is thrilled to help bring the program to IPS.
“(Because) this is IPS’ first year in Special Olympics, we are all really excited,” she said. “Any time we can get our life skills students involved in something that is fun and exciting, especially alongside our general education peers, is a great opportunity.”
Students in CFI’s fifth-grade general education classes have been chosen as peer athletes to work alongside the life skills students. “My kids are practicing during recess at least once a week, including during P.E., and the peer athletes practice the same skills,” said Langbeen. “When we go to the games, they will all be participating together.”
Langbeen said Special Olympics provides a sense of unity and community to all students.
“It’s really important for everyone to see that we have capabilities and not disabilities. Everybody has things that they’re good at and things that they can participate in,” she said. “I think having both life skills students and general education students working on these activities together and participating in a unified event can show everybody that there are things that we can do together and have fun at together and just be a community.”
Track and field events at the Special Olympics Indiana Unified Game Days include a 25-meter run/walk, a 15-meter run, hurdles, long jump, and throwing and catching. Only Pre-K students will compete May 29; students in K-8 will compete May 30 through June 1.
“I look forward to IPS’ inaugural competition,” said Booth. “These special athletes are already champions in that they have the courage, drive and spirit to participate.”