Unified Sports teaches more than just sportsmanship

Unified+Sports+teaches+more+than+just+sportsmanship

Renee Weisz, A&E

There’s always hype about the varsity football team during Homecoming or the big FCIAC win for girls’ varsity soccer, but Staples is also home to a team of unsung champions: the Unified Sports team.

The Staples chapter of the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) sanctioned Unified Sports program was formed 14 years ago by Staples varsity runner, Dan Goldberg ’03 and his friend Ankur Shah ’04. The club allows student athletes with disabilities, to participate with regular education students, referred to as “the partners,” to practice sports and compete in county-wide tournaments on the same playing field. Practices for soccer, basketball and track and field are held for six weeks per season from 2:30 to 3:30 on Friday afternoons.

Just like any other sports team, athletes score goals during soccer matches, compete in the javelin throw during track and field meets and shoot three pointers during basketball games. Yet, unlike the competitiveness of a typical sports season, “The emphasis is not necessarily on winning. It’s just about being friends and being in a happy environment,” Zamary, gym teacher and supervisor of the club, said.

The athletes involved in Unified Sports are immersed in the camaraderie of a school team along with the mainstream student-body culture and spirit. Athletes confidently walk out of each event with smiles on their faces, feeling supported by their classmates and proud of the skills they have developed.

“Me and another one of my partners worked together, and did a pretty good job and everyone was cheering,” Johnny Bairaktaris ’16, one of the athletes, said. “When Ms. Zamary called our names, everyone cheered and supported us from Staples to Barlow, Monroe, Fairfield, etc” he added.

Zamary, as the physical education teacher for adapted students, has had the additional opportunity to form relationships with athletes in and out of the classroom. The energy level, she said, is noticeably elevated when the students work with other students their own age.

“[W]hether Alexander Bauman scores a goal in practice and then celebrates by running around the gym like he’s flying a plane or [whether you see] the high fives after a kid scores a goal, you really see the just kids happy to be there,” Zamary said.
Not only has the program helped athletes physically improve, but partners have gained an appreciation for the struggles and triumphs of their new friends.

Senior presidents of the club, Kristen Onorato ’15 and Pamela Onorato ’15, are proud to lead a group of such hardworking fellow students.

“No matter the difficulties each athlete faces, I am truly inspired by their enthusiasm and the support they have for each other. It is always a great way to start my weekend,” Kristen said.

Josh Willis ’16, a member since freshman year and partner to Hillary Greenwald, expressed his new found gratitude developed through joining the club.

“All of the students are so happy playing soccer one hour a week, and it makes me realize how fortunate I am,” Willis said.