Unified Kickball Fosters Community With Special Olympics Athletes
This semester, UNC Campus Recreation and Special Olympics North Carolina hosted a Unified Kickball League, an opportunity for Special Olympics athletes and UNC student volunteers to compete in intramural kickball games at Hooker Fields.
“Kickball is a sport that we first introduced in 2016 or 2017,” said Tori Hooker, senior assistant director of athletic programs at Campus Recreation. “I worked with the Orange County Special Olympics coordinator to set it up and make it work, and we’ve been offering it ever since. It’s something close to my heart and I love to see it come to fruition.
Unified Sports is a University sports program that serves to foster community between Special Olympics athletes and UNC students. Unified Kickball usually takes place in the spring, with Unified Flag Football League in the fall. But due to concerns over COVID-19, the two sports have changed semesters this year.
Special Olympics athlete Nickalas Harris said he enjoys the opportunity to make friends, stay active and play sports, especially when physical disabilities make some forms of exercise difficult.
“Kickball is the only outdoor sport that I really love,” said Harris. “This is the one I can do. My doctor says I can’t play football because I have seizures, but with Special Olympics I can do kickball, track and field, and basketball. UNC volunteers and my teammates support me.
Along with the social atmosphere and community created by Unified Kickball, the sport also offers Special Olympics athletes games every Thursday.
“It’s a way for us to keep people engaged in sport, to exercise and to be healthy,” said Elise Tuzo, President of Special Olympics UNC-CH. “On each team, they have about half of the athletes and half of the students at UNC, so they’re sort of working towards the same goal of being active, encouraging each other and feeling like a part of. a team.”
Clare Feole, another athlete participating in Special Olympics, said she appreciates the camaraderie and community of the program.
“I loved participating in Unified Sports because being part of a community is more fun with everyone willing to cheer on people,” she said. “My favorite part was being with my friends and being part of a community that was so supportive of people.
Hooker said she enjoys seeing people of different skill and ability levels come together for fun and compete in unified kickball competitions.
“I think it impacts everyone involved, whether they are UNC participants or Special Olympics athletes or even our student staff, and everyone is affected in different ways,” Hooker said. “Sport is a way to break down barriers and work together to achieve common goals, regardless of our experiences and the identities we hold. “
The last game of the fall season was on Thursday, October 14. Special Olympics athletes and UNC students celebrated with snacks, ice cream and t-shirts to congratulate them on their progress.
Next semester, Unified Sports will host intramural basketball and flag football matches.
Students interested in participating in unified sports or getting involved in Special Olympics can contact Special Olympics UNC-CH through their HeelLife page.
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