Special Education students shine through Unified Sports

Second annual Special Olympics event rallies support


Logan Embree

Sophomore Blake Rudig defends his team’s goal during the Unified Sports event Friday.

  Nov. 3 marked the second annual Placer County Unified Sports event, giving special needs students from 10 different schools the opportunity to not only defy their physical disabilities but be a part of a team that accepts them for their unique sense of individuality.

  The 2017 Unified Sports event was hosted by Whitney High Rocklin in the school’s small and large gymnasiums. The Granite Bay High  team played four soccer games from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., with small breaks in between.

  Nine other schools’ special education students in Placer County – including Woodcreek, Nevada Union and Del Oro, among others – participated and brought along cheering sections that filled the gym bleachers with supportive energy.

  Special Olympics Unified Sports was founded in the 1960s by Eunice Kennedy Shriver with the goal of “creating a new world of inclusion and community, where every single person is accepted and welcomed, regardless of ability or disability.”

  Like Shriver, GBHS special education teacher Michelle Restani advocates for the program’s unifying power.

  “(We want) the school to get behind kids who don’t get a chance to be involved and for them to represent our school,” Restani said. “It’s a fun atmosphere, and they get to be a part of something … even with their (special) abilities.”

  This event gives special needs students an outlet for their energy and a way to practice effective team-building skills.

  “We got to watch them have complete confidence, be positive and excited because this whole event is set up for them to be successful,” said GBHS Paraprofessional KC Bevis.

  This is only the second year GBHS has taken part in the event, but the participant turnout exceeded expectations with a grand total of 25 students.

  Last year, despite the limited number of students, the high schoolers made the most of the situation.

   “They didn’t complain about how tired they were… because they were just so enthusiastic and excited about it,” Bevis said. “And, these are the kids that sometimes just complain about walking across campus.”

  Sophomore special education student Dylan Samuel could not contain his joy while watching his team score goal after goal during each game.

 “It was so fun because we were playing soccer and I really liked it,”  Samuels said.

  Unified Sports is not only meant for the participants but also to bring awareness about special needs programs to other students.

  “The kids that came to cheer them on get a different perspective about what some of the other kids on our campus have to go through,” said Jeff Evans, a GBHS special education teacher and varsity football coach.

  This year, the students and adults in the special education department were joined by members of the school newspaper, the yearbook, the media program and the Tribe who came along to cheer for their peers and report about the event.

  “They get to get out there and play, and it was really exciting for our kids to see a lot of the Tribe members out there,” Evans said. “It’s a special day.”

  The special education department  has high hopes for continuing the participation of GBHS students and teachers in the future.

  “Hopefully it only gets bigger,” Evans said. “Hopefully we can do another one in the spring for a spring sport like basketball or something like that.”   

  According to Restani, all the effort and planning that went into this year’s Unified Sports field trip was well worth it to see her students’ smiling faces.

  “It’s a win-win for everybody,” Restani said. “I think my cheeks hurt at the end from laughing and smiling so much.”