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Kicking stigmas aside with unified soccer
May 10, 2023
Unified sports joins people with and without disabilities together on the same team. The main goal is for people to train, play, and build friendships together between people of all abilities. This spring marks Inglemoor’s eighth year participating in unified soccer. Unified Soccer practices every Tuesday from 3:15 to around 4:00. The first day of practice this season was April 18.
“It isn’t necessarily a competitive league. We really focus on relationship-building with students who might act a little bit differently or who might look a little bit differently,” said unified soccer coach Jessica Huber (she/her). “It’s really about inclusivity and unity and making sure we bolster our climate and culture at Inglemoor High School through really strong relationships with students.”
Unified sports, unified club, inclusive youth leadership and whole school engagement are all part of a school-wide initiative to join the global community of certified Unified Schools. The intention is to create an inclusive place where everyone feels welcome, valued and included in school and their local community regardless of their abilities. Inglemoor’s goal is to become certified by the Special Olympics Schools program as a Unified Champion School in the near future, which indicates that a school has completed the process of building a school culture that encourages, supports and expects social inclusion.
“Out of the four high schools, we have the most comprehensive, unified campus,” said Huber. “You need to have two to three years of the club, and then to have a leadership — ASB — co-led by a student who has different and unique needs as well as a student who may or may not. So there’s co-leadership across campus. So that, with the unified club and the unified sports.”
Unified club started earlier this school year, and students with disabilities are currently developing leadership skills through participating in the ASB senate. Two unified sports — soccer and bowling — are currently offered. Participants in unified sports have expressed that being part of the program has allowed them to make a positive difference in the community.
“You help differently abled students play the game so they have a chance to participate in a sport. It’s a chance to be all-inclusive, have some fun and a chance to be a part of something.” said first-year soccer partner Logan Christian (he/him).
Unified soccer provides an opportunity for athletes and partners to train and compete together on the same team. Athletes are individuals with intellectual disabilities, and partners are individuals without intellectual disabilities.
Sophomore Dani Xu (he/him) is a second-year soccer athlete. He is most looking forward to representing Inglemoor and meeting students from schools around the district.
“All unified soccer teams wear shirts, and they dress differently from each other,” said Xu, notably excited for the season to start.
All their soccer practices lead up to the three jamboree games on the first three Saturdays of May, where all four schools in the district gather and compete.
“It’s also cool because they really develop friendships with kids across all schools. So it’s just this big conglomerate of humans with successful friendships and relationships,” said Huber. “We have a student from Woodinville who’s befriended almost everybody on our team, and it’s so cool to have that camaraderie amongst the different high schools.”
Joining unified soccer fosters lifelong relationships with peers and enhances community engagement while building confidence in students with disabilities.
“One of the coolest things last year was having a mom become so emotional because she’s never been able to be a soccer mom because her son hasn’t been able to access soccer at a competitive level or at a level in which he feels comfortable with surroundings and people he’s around,” said Huber. “Seeing these families get to celebrate their students for who they are and their unique needs is one of the most powerful things I think I’ve seen with unified sports and the unified club.”
Inglemoor’s unified soccer club currently has 13 people registered. Last season, the team had 11 people registered. In addition to the growing size of the team, the players’ interest is also growing.
“We’ve been talking about having a team that might be a bit more competitive. We’re starting to see some skills grow; kids are getting excited to score goals,” said Huber. “It’s been a cool thing to have every student score at least one goal this past season, and I think we might have been the only team who accomplished that.”
While players do well at succeeding individually, the team needs help to identify what the future will look like as a whole.
“We’re struggling right now with where to go with it. Do we want it to become like a full season sport and have the opportunity to play schools in Seattle?” said unified soccer coach Abbie Hanson (she/her).
Although the team’s purpose isn’t to be competitive, the coaches see a passion in the students that drives the team to play at a higher level. However, funding struggles have hindered the team’s ability to develop further.
“Funding is difficult,” said Huber. “We don’t receive as much funding as other sports, and it would be really nice if we’re considered a sport to be treated equitably instead of not having access to everything that the boys soccer team may have or the girls soccer team may have.”
Coach Huber believes unified sports are an effective entry point for making positive shifts in school climate. In addition, unified sports are essential to school athletics because they provide students with a fair and equitable environment. The district is currently working on implementing at least one unified sport in each sports season.
“It’s really celebrating students and who they are, no matter how they act or what they look like. It really focuses on the core of who they are,” said Huber.
Unified Soccer practices every Tuesday from 3:15 to a little past 4:00. The first day of practice this season was April 18. Games are the first three Saturdays of May, on May 6, 13 and 20. So show up to support your peers!