Everyone’s an athlete

Unified Sports program helps CHS special education students build camaraderie, soccer skills

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"I can't express in words the electricity, pride and support of the participating athletes and their families, with and without disability. It has been a great experience this season for our students and coaches."

-- Brian Wilde, CHS dean of students

“I can’t express in words the electricity, pride and support of the participating athletes and their families, with and without disability. It has been a great experience this season for our students and coaches.”

— Brian Wilde, CHS dean of students

When asked what he enjoys most about being a member of the Unified Soccer team, Josiah Schmid breaks into a big smile and shrugs his shoulders.

“I like all of it,” the Camas High School senior said. “Soccer practice is fun and I have met a new friend. And, we are going to state!”

Schmid is among nine students who participate on the competitive level of Unified Soccer, a Special Olympics inclusive program that combines an approximately equal number of special education students and partners, who are general education students. Team levels range from recreational to competitive.

On a recent chilly morning at CHS, it was indeed difficult to distinguish between the players and the partners, which is a goal of the competitive program.

In fact, it was so successful in its first season that the Papermakers qualified for state. Coach Kendal Vom Baur said the students’ reactions were the same as any other high school team.

“They are competitive, so it was really exciting for them,” she said in an interview before the championship. “When we qualified to go, it was all these emotions. They started jumping up and down and yelling, ‘We’re going to state, we’re going to state.’ We are really pumped up.”

The team showed its Papermaker pride this weekend, making it to the finals of the state tournament.

“This was an outstanding first season of Unified Soccer and I am extremely proud of all of the players,” Vom Baur said. “They really embraced the program and actively supported each other throughout the season.”

Vom Baur is student teaching in the Life Skills program at CHS. She was approached to coach the recreational and competitive soccer teams, with the help of leadership students.

“It’s been an awesome experience,” she said. “I have volunteered for Special Olympics before, but it is fun to do it at the high school level. There are some really fun personalities. It’s been great to see them get to interact with the general education students and get to know one another.”

Unified Soccer is in its first season at CHS. Several leadership students came up with the idea after attending a conference and hearing about the program. They approached Brian Wilde, the dean of students, to see if they could get a team going.

“When the kids come to you and ask that kind of question, your answer is ‘Yes and tell us what you need,'” he said. “The kids did a great job of reaching out to parents, special education students and the partners.”

He said during the past few months, Unified Soccer has done much to build on the idea of an inclusive school community.

“I can’t express in words the electricity, pride, and support of the participating athletes and their families, with and without disability,” he said. “It has been a great experience this season for our students and coaches.”

Leadership students Alexa Jones and Danny Wing helped spearhead the program and reached out to families and special education students.

“We have an awesome administrative team and athletic director,” she said. “They asked us what we needed to make the program successful, and we got it started.”

Noted Wing, “It is so much fun to watch. They are having the time of their lives out there.”

Jones added that Camas is the only school of 10 that participated in Clark County to field both a recreational and a competitive team.

“It is awesome we had so much participation,” she said.

Dave Thorkelson served as a volunteer coach for the competitive and the recreational teams.

“My daughter, Sydney, is non-verbal, but she came home from school one day really excited about something,” he recalled. “After we figured it out, we were all for it. Her brothers play competitive soccer and she was really excited to participate.”

Thorkelson has helped coach his sons’ teams in the past and was eager to lend a hand at the high school level.

“Camas is great for supporting this type of activity,” he said. “I was really excited to have her play soccer with this group. I really like how they get to feel a part of the high school program.”

Liza Foat, 17, enjoys being on the front lines for the Papermakers.

“Scoring goals is my favorite part,” she said. “It has definitely been awesome and I would love to play again next year, if I can.”

Senior Ben Klave decided to participate on the team after friends approached him about it. He has played competitive soccer for several years.

“It was exactly what I was looking for,” he said. “It gave me a way to stay involved in the soccer program since I didn’t play on the high school team this fall. I really wish I could do this again. It has been so much fun.”

Principal Steve Marshall noted that both parents and students have been enthusiastic and supportive of the program.

“There has been nothing but positives so far,” he said. “These include increased athletic and social confidence by our students with special needs, a social connection between students who do not normally get the opportunity to interact and collaborate, and good feelings by their general education counterparts.”

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