A team of four students, two of them with intellectual disabilities and two of them without, are in Peterborough, Ontario this week representing Bert Church High School from Airdrie and the province of Alberta at the Special Olympics Ontario School Championships.
The four, Kendra Van Dewark, Noah Van Dewark, Ami Schaan and Emma Rockwell, are representing the school and the province in bocce. They're at the event along with Bert Church teachers Ian Ferguson and Cynthia Dahl from May 29th through 31st. Other students from Manitoba, Ontario and the United States are also taking part. Last year, 950 athletes from 85 schools competed.
Dahl says the four students were thrilled to go to the games. "Very excited. They talked about it every school day and I'm sure at home," Dahl laughs.
Speical Olympics Unified Sports is dedicated to promoting social inclusion through shared sports experiences, joining people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team. It is inspired by the principle that says training and playing together is a quick path to friendship and understanding,
Bert Church is now in their third year of inclusive sports and last year won Unified School of the Year in Alberta. Dahl says the unified model is working well.
"They (the athletes) work really well together. They have a good rapport going and they enjoy playing together and making new and different kinds of friends, so it's great!"
Special Olympics Alberta has a partnership with the Alberta Schools' Athletic Association that gives the students the opportunity to play together. In the three years the partnership has existed, the students taking part in Unified Sports has almost tripled.
Dahl says all the students who take part get something very special from the program.
"The athletes look forward to all the unified events, to the practices, they just enjoy playing the sports, they enjoy playing it with the partners that come out from the school. The practices are fun then when we go to the events it's just such a happy and good feeling. They all love participating together and it just brings different groups of students that might not normally play sports together. Then they see each other at different times in the school and it helps build our school community."
Bert Church is a school that understands the power of the program, taking part in three of the five unified Sports in Alberta, basketball, bean bag toss and bocce. The other sports are floor hockey and soccer.
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