November 14, 2013
Unified Track & Field Tournament announced by IHSAA, Special Olympics Indiana
In a historic move, the Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) has further enhanced its ‘Champions Together’ partnership with Special Olympics Indiana (SOIN) in sanctioning a Unified Track and Field event set for 2014.
This most recent collaborative effort allows IHSAA-member schools to form teams composed equally of students with and without intellectual disabilities to compete for a state championship in Unified Track and Field. The IHSAA Executive Committee officially approved the new tournament during last week’s monthly meeting.
Schools will be able to individually schedule regular season competitions next spring before state tournament competition. Two sectionals meets – one north and one south – will be run on Friday, May 30 and Saturday, May 31 at centrally located host sites with all participants then advancing to the state championship meet on Saturday, June 7, 2014. That event will be held in conjunction with and take place just prior to the start of the IHSAA Boys Track & Field State Finals in Bloomington.
Events included will be the 100 meter Dash, 400 meter Dash, 4x100 meter Relay, Shot Put and Long Jump.
Special Olympics Indiana will be providing technical support to schools participating in Unified Track and Field, as well as financial grants to a number of schools to assist with startup costs.
According to IHSAA Commissioner Bobby Cox, "The approval by the IHSAA Executive Committee for a Unified Track and Field event is a beginning step in the evolving culture of inclusion between the IHSAA and our partners at Special Olympics Indiana. It is a humbling opportunity to collaborate with one of our state's most important organizations in the creation of an event that will certainly stand as a historic benchmark for both groups. It seems fitting and proper that the first inclusive sport recognized by the IHSAA is track and field—also the first sport recognized by the IHSAA in 1903.”
Michael Furnish, Special Olympics Indiana president and CEO applauds the IHSAA for its leadership.
“The vote by the IHSAA to include students with special needs in interscholastic sports competition is historic,” he says. “Decades after people eligible for Special Olympics were brought into public education, they now have new opportunities to bring their competitive spirit and positive attitude to contribute through sports to their schools.”
Unified Sports® enables persons with and without intellectual disabilities to participate on the same team for sports training and competition. Special Olympics Indiana is considered a world leader in the development of Unified Sports® programs, having conducted the first-ever pilot test in 1989, and since has developed an all-inclusive approach with Unified competition featured in virtually all represented sports.
In 1992 Connecticut became the first state in which an official partnership was formed between Special Olympics and a state high school athletic association. Connecticut has been conducting organized Unified Sports® competitions for high school students since that time and now administers competitions in five Unified Sports® while more than 60 percent of Connecticut High Schools compete in at least one Unified Sport®.
Following the lead of Connecticut, Maryland, Arizona, Rhode Island and New Hampshire have since formed similar programs. Indiana will officially be joining this list as it forms inclusive Unified Sports® teams under IHSAA rules and in pursuit of IHSAA awards and recognition.
The “Champions Together” partnership between the Indiana High School Athletic Association and Special Olympics Indiana was launched on December 17, 2012. The partnership evolved from IHSAA Commissioner Bobby Cox charging the IHSAA Student Advisory Committee (SAC) to engage in “servant leadership” and discover ways to give back to their schools and communities. The IHSAA SAC researched options and unanimously requested that an official partnership be formed with Special Olympics as the most appropriate fit, incorporating education-based athlete servant leadership. During the first six months of the partnership, the 18 members of the IHSAA SAC and their schools helped develop the goals now adopted by Champions Together.
The Champions Together partnership seeks to involve a minimum of 50 IHSAA member schools. The partnership will provide a banner to all IHSAA member schools that meet minimum requirements in the areas of 1) student-led servant leadership, 2) awareness, respect and inclusion as it relates to all individuals with intellectual disabilities, 3) volunteerism through service to the school and community and 4) fundraising to promote the vision and programs of Special Olympics Indiana and the Champions Together partnership. Special Olympics Inc. is supporting Champions Together as a model program to activate schools through “Project Unify” which also has the endorsement of the National Federation of High Schools.
For more information on Champions Together, contact Lee Lonzo, LLonzo@ihsaa.org.
About Special Olympics Indiana, Inc. (SOIN)
Special Olympics Indiana is a not-for-profit organization that provides year-round sports more than 11,000 athletes across Indiana. The organization receives no federal- or state-appropriated funds, is not a United Way agency and relies entirely on corporate, civic and individual donations. For more information about Special Olympics Indiana, call (317) 328-2000 or visit www.soindiana.org.
About the Indiana High School Athletic Association, Inc. (IHSAA)
Founded in 1903, the purpose of the Indiana High School Athletic Association, Inc. (IHSAA) is to encourage, regulate and give direction to wholesome amateur interschool athletic competition between its 412 member schools. The Association provides state championship tournament series in 20 sports, 10 for girls and 10 for boys. Approximately 160,000 student athletes participate in IHSAA sports on an annual basis.