Special Olympics Washington paired up with Seattle University to give folks with special needs the chance to play in a soccer tournament with teams from the entire state.
The tournament was held on Seattle U’s Championship Field and SU park, with both men’s and women’s varsity squads attending to help run the tournament.
The project included a youth summit on Friday April 17, where Special Olympics speakers covered the vision for college clubs for disabled students, and the overall mission of their Unified Sports program.
On Saturday, SU Park and Championship Field were filled with eager faces, sweaty brows and a joy for the game. Student commentary boosted the feel of the tournament, where teams competed in three different brackets.
Special Olympics envisions club sports teams on college campuses as part of their outreach to boost inclusiveness. The event at Seattle U was just one way that schools are coming together to invite athletes to get a chance to play soccer. Unified teams include both students with and without disabilities, who come together in full force to play on the same pitch.
The mood on the field Saturday was one of pure joy, a glorious sunny day on a D1 college pitch that let the athletes feel like they were on a big stage.
“Unified Sports teams create an atmosphere that builds friendships and breaks down a lot of barriers and stereotypes,” said Morgan Larche, a member of Special Olympics Washington.
Over her one and half years on board with the Special Olympics, Larche has seen Washington become a leader in the country for developing unified teams.
“We definitely want as many schools to have as unified opportunities [as possible],” Larche said. “We are going to work with any … schools that want to get on board and offer these opportunities to their students.”
Highline College, Gonzaga, and Seattle Pacific were among the 18 college teams that were represented at the event, all hailing from Washington except Pacific University that made the trip up from Forest Grove, Oregon. Many high schools have Unified teams set in place, but College teams are steadily becoming more of a staple for campuses. Washington is also at the forefront of Special Olympics progress in terms of creating Unified teams.
Larche also noted the role of varsity athletes to help pull all students closer together surrounding a sport they are passionate about.
“We do have a lot of support from varsity athletics in colleges, we have sports like this all across the state. We pull from those colleges and [varsity athletes] help with refereeing and also they do clinics with our athletes and partners.”
On top of soccer, Special Olympics has created unified basketball and flag-football teams that hold competitive events. However, as Larche pointed out, any sport can be unified, with bocce ball and golf among the most popular in the community.
More information regarding Special Olympics’ Project Unify can be found online
Chaucer may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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