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Unified Sports tackles personal growth

Mr.+Cain%2C+Unified+Sports+sponsor+and+coach%2C+leads+a+huddle+with+the+Unified+Flag+Football+team.
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Mr. Cain, Unified Sports sponsor and coach, leads a huddle with the Unified Flag Football team.

For the past 10 years, Papio South has been growing its inclusive environment through Unified Sports. Unified Sports is a program where students with disabilities work hand in hand with other students to participate in a laundry list of sports. 

Mr. Nate Cain, the school’s Unified Champion sponsor, explained more about the  program.

“We just want kids with disabilities to have authentic friendships with people that do not have disabilities. In the long game, we want people without disabilities to understand how similar we all really are,” he said.

All of the cheering, hearing my name in the audience once I get points in the sport, all of the high fives really make me feel important.

— Seth Reisdorff

Seth Reisdorff, junior Unified Sports athlete, echoed Cain on the significance of making connections with peers. 

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All of the cheering, hearing my name in the audience once I get points in the sport, all of the high fives really make me feel important. [/pullquote]“All of the cheering, hearing my name in the audience once I get the points in the sport and all of the high fives really make me feel like I am important,” Reisdorff said.

Unified Sports can also be a very beneficial program for students without disabilities. The purpose of the program goes deeper than providing the opportunity to play sports. Unified programming teaches all students how to work with people who are different from themselves. 

Kaden Weaver, 12th, and Nathaniel Urbanski, 11th, make a play during the Unified Flag Football game. (photo: Brooklyn Anson).

Cain said, “You at least want that inclusive nature and that mindset to trickle into your future and future selves, and just being authentically a friend to someone who is different from you. But also recognizing that people with disabilities can do really amazing things. They can compete in sports, they’re super smart, they have their own quirks sometimes, but they have so much they can add to our society.” 

The Unified Sports program creates an environment where students are allowed to make mistakes and grow from them. Students overcome adversity together, which helps them grow closer. 

“Seeing the relationships and the investments take place is awesome,” Cain said. “Also, our kids get better at sports and gain confidence at something they had no idea how to do before.”

All of the cheering, hearing my name in the audience once I get points in the sport, all of the high fives really make me feel important. [/pullquote]Reisdorff has grown both as an athlete and a person through Unified Sports.

Graphic: Kaylie McNeill

“Getting out of my comfort zone is one thing I accomplished. When I was younger, I had a lot of anxiety in front of crowds, but once I joined, I became more involved and felt more comfortable in front of crowds,” Reisdorff said.

Senior Kaden Weaver has been helping out and participating in Unified Sports for the past five years. Weaver reiterated Cain about the impact Unified Sports has on people’s lives. 

“It has affected me by making me feel like part of a community and making me realize, although I’m one person, I can still impact people’s lives,” Weaver said. “After working with everyone and realizing how amazing everyone was, I knew that this was a community I wanted to be involved in and help in any way I could.”

Cain said he himself had  known for most of his whole life that he wanted to work in special education. He is dedicated to sharing his passion and encouraging others to get involved. 

“My goal is to ask five people a day if they want to get involved in Unified Sports,” he said.  

Jayden Dees, 11th, runs down the field while looking for his next move. (photo: Brooklyn Anson)

Through the building of this program, Papio South has been awarded the title of a Unified Champion School by the Special Olympics. It was the first school in Nebraska to receive this award in 2017, and the banners awarded can be renewed every four years. In order to be a Unified Champion School, a school must have at least three Unified sports, alongside Unified clubs, and leadership components built in. 

“You have inclusive-based programming, you have Unified Sports, leadership – for example, Inclusion Week, where we go out and have kids talk to elementary schools to work toward inclusion. There are also community experiences or community inclusion … we partner with Trinity Church for a lot of our sports recreation, and then volunteering and service learning.” 

The banner is a physical embodiment of how much Unified Sports means to Papio South. It creates a comfortable environment for many students. 

Weaver said, “My favorite part of Unified Sports is being part of the team and working together with everybody, and really feeling like I’m part of the community.”

Unified Sports also create lasting memories for everyone involved. Cain shared his favorite memory from a basketball game several years ago: “TJ McNew hit a buzzer-beater to beat the Monarchs… He drained a three. It was amazing. The crowd went wild, people went nuts. I mean, I cried … He came to school for a week dressed in the jersey. People were giving him high fives. It was all he could talk about, which he should have been talking about it.” 

For Reisdorff, his whole school experience has been better because of Unified Sports. “I see people notice me more in the hallways, and my friend groups got bigger throughout the years,” he said. 

“I want people to know that Unified Sports and athletes are just as motivated as the varsity team,” Reisdorff added, “and every cheer and smile encourages us to do our very best every time!”

 

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Kaylie McNeill, Staff Reporter
Hi guys! My name is Kaylie and this is my second year on staff. I spend a lot of my time playing travel ice hockey. I also run track, mountain bike, and snowboard on the side. I love it all! I find interest in writing about mostly anything, especially things that I feel make a difference and affect the community. I'm so excited for you all to see what I alongside my staff members can create!
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