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Scoring friendships

Unified Special Olympics allows students with special needs to compete, make friends

The+Unified+volleyball+team+competed+in+McKinney+on+Saturday%2C+Dec.+15.+Courtesy+of+Bailey+Fry.
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Scoring friendships

The Unified volleyball team competed in McKinney on Saturday, Dec. 15. Courtesy of Bailey Fry.

The Unified volleyball team competed in McKinney on Saturday, Dec. 15. Courtesy of Bailey Fry.

The Unified volleyball team competed in McKinney on Saturday, Dec. 15. Courtesy of Bailey Fry.

The Unified volleyball team competed in McKinney on Saturday, Dec. 15. Courtesy of Bailey Fry.

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Unified Special Olympics is a school-based program that allows students with special needs to practice, compete in multiple sporting events, make friends and feel the bond of being on a team. Unlike more traditional Special Olympics programs which restrict competing teams to special needs athletes only, Unified Special Olympics allows general education students to compete alongside special needs athletes. Inspired by the Unified Special Olympics program she saw in Oklahoma, special education teacher Bailey Fry was determined to provide her students with the same opportunities to compete.

“I thought it would be a good way for my students to stay active, stay healthy, make new friends they wouldn’t necessarily have and feel like they were part of a team,” Fry said. “It was just a really cool program in Oklahoma and I knew they’re trying to build it here in Texas and when I came back I was like, we absolutely need to be doing this here too.”

Because a large amount of students have difficulty attending before or after school practices and competitions, Fry had to create a way for athletes to train without worrying about transportation to practices outside of school hours. Taking advantage of block lunch, Fry created fit club where athletes come to practice every Friday during B-block in the arena.

“There’s about 45 kids in fit club that come in on Fridays,” Fry said. “[Attendance] just depends on what tutorials the [kids] have to go to. They don’t always make it to all of the events because [many] of our partners in fit club are on the basketball team and they’re in season.”

Fit club and Special Olympics focuses more on participation rather than competition so athletes can play without worrying about who might be better than them or what other people might think. This promotes a friendly environment where kids can just come and have a good time.

“It’s a place for disabled individuals to communicate without being judged,” Special Olympics coach Stephanie Driscole said. “The [kids] are more open to attempt and try things because no one is trying to outdo someone else. The [coaches] just want everybody to participate.”

Supporting their fellow Fighting Farmers, the Rowdy Crowd comes to Special Olympic events to cheer on the athletes. Like any other sport, students show their support for their classmates and want to see each other succeed.

“I like to see people who need help in sporting activities and seeing the people who help them,” senior Jaxon English said. “I just like to see the joy on people’s faces when they accomplish something.”

While kicking, dunking, bowling and spiking is fun for all the athletes, it’s the friendship, teamwork and collaboration students really value. Special Olympics and fit club allow special needs students to truly feel what it’s like to be a part of the Farmer family.

“What I like about Special Olympics is the fact that these kids are willing to put in the time and the effort into helping the other kids who can’t really do anything when it comes to sports,” senior Jordan Green said.

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