Independence defeats Glendale to win first Unified Sports badminton championship

By: 
DARRELL JACKSON, Glendale Star Reporter
Photo courtesy Independence High School

Independence badminton state champions Oscar Arredondo Torres and Enrique Arellano, alongside their coaches, Jennifer Perry and Samantha Wyatt, pose with second-place Glendale team, Rogelio Miranda Real and Vanessa Sanchez, with Glendale head coach Megan O’Donnell after the final match.
 

Photo courtesy Independence High School

Independence state Unified Sports badminton champions Oscar Arredondo Torres and Enrique Arellano.
 

“The competition was great and most matches had very close scores,” Independence head coach Jennifer Perry said. “The sportsmanship was impressive and there was an incredibly positive vibe throughout the day.”

Two Glendale Union High School District Unified Sports teams shined during the Unified Sports Badminton State Championship as Independence defeated Glendale in the championship match Oct. 21.
Independence’s Oscar Arredondo Torres and Enrique Arrellano defeated Glendale’s Rogelio Miranda Real and Vanessa Sanchez two matches to none in the championship matchup.
Hundreds of spectators packed the Independence gym and cheered from the opening introductions to every point. The band played during timeouts and numerous cheerleaders cheered like it was every other sporting event.
“The competition was great and most matches had very close scores,” Independence head coach Jennifer Perry said. “The sportsmanship was impressive and there was an incredibly positive vibe throughout the day.”
Coaches were excited about the match and the fact that games were competitive.
“Both teams played incredibly well and displayed the highest level of sportsmanship,” Perry said. “It was so exciting to know that our district was going to have a championship regardless of which school won the final match.”

Unified Sports and Special Olympics
Unified sports is a program designed to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy, and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.
Unified Sports is sports in which regular education students “mentor” and assist developmentally delayed students in sports as well as everyday high school life.
“Independence has competed in Unified events for years,” Perry said. “The past few years we have done Unified bowling, soccer, bocce ball and track.”
Special Olympics Arizona (SOAZ) and Unified sports has grown to over 12,000 participants now play Unified Sports in Arizona.
“Kellis High School is like the pride and joy of Unified Sports because they started the program for both athletics and the school,” Senior Director of Support Programs for SOAZ Laura Forsell said. “Everyone at Kellis has been so supportive and helpful to schools in the Glendale Union High School District as they started their programs.”

GUHSD gains acceptance and success
Independence, which had more than 40 participants on their squad with 21 athletes and 23 partners, had four teams qualify for the tournament.
“The Independence Special Olympics Unified program is run in conjunction with our peer tutoring program and the tutors are the partners during our practices and competitions,” Perry said. “I feel that these programs are incredibly important to the culture of the campus so the tutors/partners become advocates for those with special needs and there’s a ripple effect into the community as they graduate.”
Perry said a lot of the unified athletes move on to other jobs after competing in the program.
“They may become the manager who is willing to hire employees with disabilities or the next generation of teachers and speech therapists or a first responder who has a deeper understanding of working with community members with special needs,” Perry said.
Glendale had 20 athletes and 10 partners in Unified Sports and, in their first year of competing in the sport, had Miranda Real and Vanessa Sanchez advance to the finals before losing.
“The competition was evenly matched,” Glendale head coach Megan O’Donnell said. “There was a positive atmosphere throughout the tournament and the purpose is to get more students involved and to open up opportunities for students who want to be part of athletics.”
The main philosophy of Unified Sports is about inclusion and recognition of the Special Olympics athletes on their high school campus. The athletes enjoy the competition as it is happening by not being overly competitive, thus losing site of the overall spirit of inclusion.
At Glendale, which will compete in unified basketball and track this year, the response has been strong for the new additions to the athletics program.
“Currently this year, Glendale will be participating in badminton, basketball and track for our first year,” O’Donnell said. “I would like to eventually compete in all unified sports and my goal is to take as many players to the state competition as possible.”

SOAZ partnership with Arizona Interscholastic Association
In June of 2011, a partnership was formed between Special Olympics Arizona (SOAZ) and the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) with the sole purpose of building a state-wide Unified Sports system.
“This was the second year for badminton, but the first year teams could earn a state title from AIA,” Forsell said. “Arizona was the first state to establish a partnership with a regulatory body for high school athletics and that was huge for us.”
Unified Sports is an inclusive program that combines high school students with intellectual disabilities (athletes) and high school students without intellectual disabilities (partners) on sports teams for training and competition. SOAZ and AIA are excited to lead successful Unified Sports programs in high schools throughout the state.
“This was the second year we offered badminton in Arizona, the first year where they could earn a state title,” Forsell said. “To have two GUHSD school in the title game, that was special because they have taken this program to heart.”
AIA now offers nine Unified Sports including badminton, basketball, flag football, golf, soccer, spirit line, swimming and track and field, with each sport able to win a state championship.
“The partnership between SOAZ and AIA has been tremendous and (AIA Executive Director David Hines) has been a great supporter of Unified Sports,” Forsell said. “The fact that they are willing to help other states start Unified Sports programs, that says it all and how great they have been with us.”
Coaches, players and parents have also donated time to make the sports successful and all have great goals for the future of the program
“Not just Independence, but across the district and state, I would love to see Unified Sports classes become the norm,” Perry said. “That way, students are taking their physical education classes together and preparing for Unified competitions so that the spirit of inclusion is part of their daily schedule.”

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