Unified Sports, an equalizer

Newport High School was honored as a National Unified Champion School last fall by Special Olympics Oregon for its efforts to champion sports for children with disabilities, as well as those without. (Photo courtesy of Newport High School)

NEWPORT — Prep sports often provide excitement and intrigue for towns all over the Oregon coast.

 The camaraderie, competitiveness and the sheer experience of playing in front of hundreds of friends and family is something everyone should experience.

 And thanks to Unified Sports, that goal is, in fact, reality.

 I had experience with Unified Sports back in Fresno, Calif.

 Whether it was soccer, basketball or gymnastics, each athlete had a chance to play, and that’s what it’s all about.

 Fast forward to my time here on the Oregon coast. I was covering a Newport High School basketball game when at halftime, the scoreboard read 20 minutes instead of the usual 10.

 Naturally, I expected something to take place and, lo and behold, the Newport Unified basketball team took the floor for a five-versus-five game.

 And at the time, I didn't realize how prominent this team and group of parents and coaches were.

 Just a few months ago, the team received a national honor. Special Olympics Oregon awarded the Cubs with a Special Olympics Unified Champion School distinction. A banner in the Newport gym displays the school’s commitment.

 The actual game that took place during halftime was even better than I expected.

 Unified Sports brings out a special type of energy. There are no winners or losers, no sides, just support for the boys and girls who take the floor. And that energy began to reverberate in the gym after every shot that fell through the net.

 The Cubs split into two teams — blue versus white — and away they went, knocking down 30-foot three pointers and swinging the ball around the perimeter like the Golden State Warriors.

 The Cubs’ faithful weren’t the only ones cheering on the Unified Sports team. The visiting fans and players were also taking in the experience, cheering at each made shot.

 Although a short game, it was a glimpse into a bigger, more encompassing program at Newport.

 Britt Oase, Special Olympics Oregon CEO, touched on the importance of the school’s work when Newport was presented with the award.

 “Unified Champion Schools are one of the most important investments we can make in young people,” Oase said. “It is impossible to quantify the impact made by schools where the students are the voice for promoting inclusion and respect.”

 In a world where inclusivity is becoming more and more prevalent, the Newport Cubs are there, championing their students.

“The unified program has enhanced our school climate and encouraged inclusion for all students. Not just in sports but in all aspects of our school,” ECEL program advisor Jill Sellers said. “Receiving the banner and becoming a nationally recognized Unified Champion School was a huge honor. It was all started with Unified Sports.”

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