Special Olympics Unified brings students together

Team members say one of the best parts of Special Olympics Unified is forming friendships with other students.

The sound of cheers mask squeaking sneakers against the polished floors. Teammates encourage each other and smiles grow bigger as the games go on. The players run across the track, scream the loudest chants and pass the ball in perfect precision to one another completely unified. The room emits a happy glow. It is contagious. It is breathtaking. It is Special Olympics.

The Special Olympics team at Canyon High School includes one typically developing student playing with two special needs students. Activities offered are cheer, track and basketball. Typically developing students can either coach a team or play with other students.

When we started, my fear was we wouldn’t have enough typical students to make a team. It’s actually turned out to be the opposite.

— Karen Dabney, Head of Delegation

“We have a large number of students who want to get involved in this,” Karen Dabney, head of delegation said. “When we started, my fear was that we wouldn’t have enough typical students to make a team. It’s actually turned out to be the opposite.”

Dabney said Special Olympics is open to any student who wants to join.

“Some students do skills and some do competition,” Dabney said. “An example is basketball. Kids who aren’t quite ready to be on a team do skills. They compete against dribbling and shooting. But if they are ready, they play with a unified team.”

Freshman Jayden Price participates in cheerleading as well as to playing basketball. 

“I really like cheering to the fight song,” Price said. “I also play basketball. I pass and throw the ball. I joined Special Olympics because I wanted to.”

Junior Shyann Millett said she joined the team because her friends were on it.

“I play in both track and cheer,” Millett said. “It’s fun having your friends with you. We have to do a lot of moves, but it’s exciting. I want to do Special Olympics next year.”

This is the first year for the Special Olympics team to be unified at Canyon.

“I approached Mrs. Boren asking if we could have a team,” junior Cally Lytal said. “When she said yes, I was so excited.  After that, I joined Eagle’s Inc., and I talk to Mrs. Dabney. We wouldn’t have this program without her.”

It breaks down walls and integrates our school more.

— Cally Lytal, 11

Special Olympics will be adding more teams and competitions next year.

“We plan on doing bowling, tennis, softball and more things like that,” sophomore Jay Simmons said. “I am not an athletic person, but seeing how much others enjoy the game is why I’m here.”

Lytal said the most important part of Special Olympics is the relationship formed with other students.

“I actually didn’t know the kids very well until the Special Olympics program started,” Lytal said. “It helps for them to already have a relationship with their coach, so I go in during activity period and spend time with them, goofing around, getting to know them and building relationships.”

Lytal said Special Olympics has encouraged her to form relationships with other team members.

“Unified teams helps create bonds between us,” Lytal said. “It breaks down walls and integrates our school more. I am planning on working as hard as I can and cheering and coaching as loud as I can because I want to do whatever I can to let everyone have a good experience.”

One goal of Special Olympics is to foster an environment which encourages positive competition between all students.

We all need to be together.

— Karen Dabney, Head of Delegation

“I’ve been blown away by the kids who show up,” Dabney said. “I won’t turn a kid away who wants to join if they are there for the right reasons. It’s been awesome for those kids in TLC to have those friendships and to be able to compete against other people.”

Canyon High’s teams compete against other area schools.

“Our biggest rival is Amarillo High School,” Dabney said. “Dumas High School is the only other unified team in this area, but, if there’s a team in Region 16, we will compete against each other.”

Dabney said Special Olympics will focus unified teams in the future.

“There’s a thing called Unified Champion schools, and that’s where we want to go,” Dabney said. “There’s a hashtag you can search called, #inclusionrevolution, and it’s just a way to bring everyone together and to create these friendships. Inclusion is a really big push in the Special Olympics community right now. We all need to be together.”