Play ball! To celebrate the conclusion of their successful inaugural season, members of the Portland (CT) Unified Sports program cheered on the New Britain Rock Cats at New Britain Stadium on August 30th.
The outing was special, as it recognized the strength of the Portland Unified Sports program—a powerful partnership among local parents, schools, and the Parks & Recreation department. In all, 37 children participated in this year’s program, and more than 50 are expected to participate this fall.
Funded in part by Unified Sports and through a grant from Dylan’s Wings of Change, Portland Unified Sports was started last April by local parent Gisela Rice and local sports coach Mike Pelton. Together with support from Portland resident Lou Pear, a retired director of Unified Sports, the Portland program launched as an after-school activity on April 24th, and matched 12 special athletes in grades K-4 with 14 mainstream students. By the start of summer, the town’s Park & Rec program was ready to pick up the program through August.
The program has been a total success, both among children with special needs and their mainstream peers. “I’ve gotten three emails from parents, asking if their kids can become a peer,” Rice recently told the Middletown Press.
Ian Hockley, project director at Dylan’s Wings of Change, couldn’t be more pleased. “The Portland Unified Sports program is making a wonderful impact on participants,” he says. “Kids with special needs are making friends and learning from their peers, while mainstream kids are learning empathy, kindness and compassion. Most importantly, everyone is having fun.”
A unique program within Special Olympics, Unified Sports is a fast-growing global initiative that brings people with and without intellectual disabilities together on the same team to compete. Unified Sports enables teams of people with and without intellectual disabilities to train together and compete together in a spirit of friendship and understanding.
To learn more about inclusive community sports and arts programs funded in part by grants from Dylan’s Wings of Change, click here.