Students with and without disabilities team up for soccer tournament

Posted at 4:32 PM, May 03, 2014
and last updated 2014-05-03 18:32:23-04

SALT LAKE CITY – Students across Utah teamed up and took to the field for a unique soccer tournament in Midvale Saturday.

The 2014 Unified Soccer State High School Tournament is the joint effort of Special Olympics Utah and the Utah High School Activities Association, and about 144 students and 24 coaches participated.

The event was held at Hillcrest High School. Unified Sports is a Special Olympics program that combines individuals with intellectual disabilities and individuals without intellectual disabilities on sports teams for both training and competition. According to a press release from event organizers, “The players compete side-by-side and all players serve as a meaningful and integral part of the Unified Sports® team.”

Jody Katz, manager of youth and family programs for Special Olympics Utah, said they are only one of seven states to offer this kind of experience and that this effort is a first for Utah.

“We are bringing, the first ever of its kind, an opportunity for students with intellectual disabilities and students without intellectual disabilities to partner together on the soccer field and have teams representing their high schools,” she said.

The 12 teams featured participants from 13 schools, which according to the press release included: “Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind-Skyline (combined school team), Bingham, Wasatch, Hillcrest, Grantsville, Mountain Crest, Lone Peak, Brighton, Alta, Spanish Fork, Jordan and Sky View.”

Katz said they hope to have more schools involved in the program by next year’s tournament. She said one of the most emotional moments of the tournament involved a player who had siblings play varsity soccer but who had never had the opportunity to play.

Katz said: “… he had never had an opportunity to be recognized in a sports arena before, and was very emotional on the field and said, “Now I am just like everyone else. This is an opportunity for me to be just like everyone else.’ …his coaches, his teammates, everyone, was really emotional and in tears just after hearing him describe what this meant for him.”

There were three divisions, with first place winners in each. Those winners were the partnership between Skyline and the Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind, Jordan High School and Grantsville High School.

Katz said participants in the program have the opportunity to win trophies representing their school and even letter.