“Make it harder for me,” Scotty yelled, the words barely comprehensible through his heavy breathing and the surrounding noise. I wasn’t even a full week into my senior year and I had already had what I would call one of the most eye-opening experiences of my year.
Unified Sports (which is a division of Special Olympics) is a class offered at my high school, and also where I had this experience. In class, myself and other able-bodied helpers coach and instruct the athletes who play various sports, including basketball and soccer.
All athletes in Unified sports have some type of mental disability. Scotty is one of these athletes.
In class, we were doing basketball drills with the athletes to evaluate what their disabilities allowed them to do (shooting, dribbling, passing, etc.). This day I was helping with the rebounding station. For most of the athletes, I would throw a basketball up against the backboard and have it come down right in front of them to evaluate their catching ability, but not Scotty. He was legitimately able to rebound the ball better than a handful of kids playing in our town’s recreation league, and that’s saying something.
Scotty actually noticed this before me, and told me to make it harder for him, which shocked me at first. When I first signed up for Unified, I expected words like babysitting and supervising to be in the responsibilities; I found that to be false. More positive words like interacting with, and enjoying the company of the athletes seemed to fit my duties better. Unified was allowing me to see the athletes as they are – regular people just like you and me – as opposed to outsiders living in another world. The only problem was, that’s still how many people with disabilities feel.
At the beginning of the school year, Mr. Warnock, one of the teachers of the Unified program, sat all of the helpers down and spoke with us. He told us not to underestimate the influence that we had on the athletes. Mr. Warnock told us what a parent of one of the athletes told him during open house one night. He said that this father was crying tears of joy while explaining what one of the helpers had done for his son Sean.
All this person had to do was sit down with Sean at lunch. It seems like such a simple thing to do to a normal person, but this father said through his tears that this was a glimpse into the other side for Sean. The other side. So many people think that we live in a society completely free of segregation and prejudices, but that just simply isn’t true.
Unified has become one of my favorite classes this year, mainly because of what it allows me to do. There isn’t another class at my high school where I can learn so much about another group of people, and, at the same time, help that same group of people see that they really are just like everyone else.