SPORTS: Play Unified Live Unified!

By Julie Chick, Oregon COAAST Network
Communities of All Abilities Succeeding Together
www.sammysplace.info

Once again, we see strengths out of the mouths of babes or in this case our Unified Students. Thirteen Oregon schools were hosted by Forest Grove School District to play in the 2022 Unified Basketball Invitational Tournament, this last Saturday. The teams each played at least three games where all athletes of all abilities see playing time in each game together.


Neah-Kah-Nie sent 17 students to compete against other Oregon districts such as Parkrose, Amity, and Lebanon, and came out on the second step of the podium. But…the win is not the only attribute of Unified Sports, it is also about team spirit and the basic concept that everyone contributes however they can. Unified Sports is an inclusive sports program that unites [ALL] athletes as teammates for training and competition, according to the Oregon Unified Sports website. What is experienced is a moment in time when everyone is genuinely working together to enjoy opportunities some rarely or ever experience. Looking closely, we recognize each person’s 100% looks completely different, and that is when everyone becomes a star on and off the court. What you discover at a Unified event is raw grit, determination, joy, and the common human desire to belong – and of course, the pursuit of the gold!

The Wilkinson Family: Gage, Jacobee, and Damien
The Neah-Kah-Nie Wilkinson family goes unified every single day. Lakyn, 7th grade, Gage, a freshman, Jacobee, a junior, and Damien a transition student all have first-hand knowledge that athletics are not only fun but can be a transformative power for everyone. Jacobee and Gage are three sport athletes playing football, baseball, and basketball. Lakyn plays softball and volleyball. On Saturday, Damien played alongside his brothers showing his ball handling and three-point shooting skills to help his team capture a second-place ribbon. Damien is an outgoing high-energy student who graduated with his class in 2021 and stays on at Neah-Kah-Nie in the student transition program. This program is designed to provided additional skills for life and independence after school within a community of his choice. Damien has goals and dreams like any other 19-year-old and he has Down syndrome, something he does not let get in the way of making friends, enjoying new experiences, having a good time, and living life fully.
We Love Unified: Neah-Kah-Nie Unified Athletes: Blake Chick, Damien Wilkinson, and Nicholas Bailey

Oregon Unified Special Olympics’ vision is to help bring all persons with intellectual disabilities into the larger society under conditions whereby they are accepted, respected, and given the chance to become useful and productive citizens. Athletics are a natural venue to sow opportunities of true inclusion into our everyday lives; Saturday’s tournament was no exception. Jacobee and Gage agree, “It was cool to see all the partners playing with the athletes and they couldn’t keep a smile off their faces while playing alongside their team”. Coaches Wantland, Roddy, and Stinnett work with the students throughout the year in a variety of sports. The experiences of all Special Olympics sports are that of pride and accomplishment that radiates from the players to coaches and spectators in a genuine atmosphere of unity and exuberance. If you’ve not attended an SO event, contact your local school or Special Olympic Oregon to become a volunteer or spectator support, there is no losing. As Jacobee says, “It was a lot of fun watching all the athletes being able to have fun and smile doing something they like!”

For more information about Oregon Unified Sports contact Carlotta Roddy carlottar@nknsd.org or Oregon Unified Special Olympics: https://soor.org/unified-sports/