Unified Sports and the Buddy Mentor Program: What are they and why should students participate?

Sarah Webber (left) and Michelle Weddle (right) pose after their bronze medal victory at the Unified Track District Tournament.

courtesy of Sylvia Weddle

Sarah Webber (left) and Michelle Weddle (right) pose after their bronze medal victory at the Unified Track District Tournament.

by Erin Lafferty, Reporter

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If someone were to ask teenagers to name the activities available in high school, they would say something along the lines of football, basketball, baseball/softball, lacrosse, poms, cheerleading, band and drama. However, two wonderful programs don’t usually make the cut: Unified Sports and the Buddy Mentor Program.

Both of these programs allow students to expand their horizons and have fun and positive experiences, but if this is the case, why aren’t more students eager to join?

Unified Sports

Maybe it’s because there’s not enough promotion. When it is announced, “Unified Track has a meet at Oakdale today,” the majority of students probably don’t know what Unified Track is, let alone any of the other Unified Sports. If students knew what Unified Sports are, maybe there would be more participants.

In Unified Sports, students are paired with another student who has some sort of disability. They then play together, giving one another positive comments and encouragements. Having Unified Sports allows those who are not naturally athletic to participate in activities and the special education students to get more social interaction. Students who are regularly in sports also participate during their off- season. Unified Sports takes patience and commitment, but the reward overshadows the hardships.

Mrs. Cheryl Novotny, a two-year coach of Unified Bocce Ball, said, “My favorite part of Unified Sports is seeing all of the students working together and supporting one another as a team, and watching the friendships and support spill over beyond practices and matches into the normal school day in the hallways, classrooms, cafeteria, etc.”

Unified Sports is active in the fall, winter and spring. Tennis is in the fall, bocce in the winter and track and field in the spring.

Unified Track and Field competed at the District Tournament last Monday, April 27. The team earned bronze and will be advancing to states on Wednesday, May 13. States will mark the end of the team’s successful season. The next Unified Sport will be Unified Tennis, set to begin in the early fall months of the 2015-2016 school year.

Novotny said, “I would encourage students to participate in Unified Sports because they will get the chance to be a part of an amazing, fun experience, and they will learn a lot about themselves along the way.”

The Buddy Mentor Program

Another opportunity is the Buddy Mentor Program. It was established in 2007 by Mr. Jeremy Brown and a parent who wanted her son to have more interaction outside of Unified Sports. Starting next year, the program will no longer be available to juniors, only seniors. They meet once a month either outside of school or during the day, depending on what is occurring in the school that day. However, they are no longer considered a club and do not meet on club day.

Mrs. Mary Cate Henry, special education teacher and co-head of the Buddy Mentor Program, said the purpose of the Buddy Mentor Program is for the students to learn appropriate social skills and learn how to interact outside of their classroom.

The Buddy Mentor Program also go on field trips together. Within the past two years, they have gone on several field trips. These include going to the zoo, painting pottery, eating lunch at Golden Corral and taking a trip to Gaver Tree Farm around Halloween. While at Gaver, the students prepared for Halloween by navigating a corn maze.

Senior, and participant of the program for two years, Kyle Johnson says, “I like it because it gives me a chance to make an impact on someone’s life that I normally wouldn’t be able to. The buddies always make me laugh and are always fun to be around.”

Henry explained that the program has grown throughout the years in terms of flexibility and the number of field trips that occur, but this year it has decreased in the amount of students in the program. This is due to many Learning for Life students graduating which limits the amount of students needed to pair up.

The number of students involved depends on the number of the Learning for Life students enrolled. The program also has gender specific pairing. Brown and Henry ask coaches and teachers for recommendations of students who are often seen around the building and would bring a good level of leadership and kindness to the program.

However, not all students that are involved in the Buddy Mentor Program are involved in Unified Sports and not all that are participants in Unified Sports are aware of the Buddy Mentor Program.

Senior Michelle Weddle, an active participant of Unified Bocce Ball and Track and Field for two years, said, “I hadn’t heard of the Buddy Program until last year, my junior year. I also didn’t know how to sign up or join the buddy program so I was never able to do it.” Weddle explains that although the sports gave her a large amount of experience and allowed her to get to know them she wishes she was in the Buddy Program. This is because it would have allow her to spend more time during the day doing something she loves.

Both Unified Sports and the Buddy Mentor Program allow for students to expand their horizons, interact and have fun. The programs also allow students to have an increase in self confidence and become more open and willing.

Henry encourages students to get involved in Unified activities overall. “You can learn a lot from the students involved. I think it is eye-opening, shows compassion and is a rewarding experience.”

If you are interested in getting involved with any of the Unified activities or have any questions, see the contact information below:

Unified Tennis (fall): Mr. Mark Sunkel ([email protected]) or Ms. Susan DeLizia ([email protected])

Unified Bocce Ball (winter): Mr. Mark Sunkel, Ms. Susan DeLizia or Mrs. Cheryl Novotny ([email protected])

Unified Track (spring): Mr. Robert Peters ([email protected]), Mrs. Mary Cate Henry ([email protected]) or Ms. Susan DeLizia

Buddy Mentor Program: Mr. Jeremy Brown ([email protected]) or Mrs. Mary Cate Henry

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