When Nick Oropallo walks the hallways of Southington High School, he greets every student and faculty member he knows with a smile. When Nick is playing basketball on the court or on the field kicking a soccer ball in the Unified Sports program, he treats his teammates the same way, cheering them on during tournaments.
“Everyone in school knows Nick,” said Physical Education teacher Marguerite Maddalena, the head coach of the Unified Sports program at Southington High.
Maddalena said Nick’s character has shined through his involvement on the Unified Sports team for six years now, which is why she nominated the athlete for the Mike Savage Unified Sports Award for Athletic Excellence.
Nick, who has Williams Syndrome, recently received the award during the Special Olympics Unified Sports Banquet for demonstrating sportsmanship, enthusiasm and teamwork. Nick plays soccer, basketball and bowling and runs track.
“He’s definitely a team player,” said Maddalena, noting that Nick is also a member of Best Buddies, Unified Theater and Unified Art. “I knew Nick deserved to win.”
Nick, who is also active in the community, said his favorite sport is soccer, and always gets excited when he scores goals. During a recent meeting, the Board of Education awarded Nick with a plaque for his role on the Unified Sports team. Nick, who plans to attend prom this year, has other medals he has won over the years.
“It was very exciting for Nick and the team,” said Maddalena, adding that Nick has received an outpour of support from the entire school community.
Maddalena nominated Nick through an essay, noting his positive personality and commitment to the team, as he has never missed a meeting, practice or exhibition game, tournament game, fundraiser and other events. During tournaments, he gives fist bumps to his teammates and also introduces himself to a variety of people, including parents and other students.
Maddalena said Nick has made a positive impact on everyone he encounters, and is also the person referred to in the scholarship essays written by students involved in the program. She added that Nick upholds the mission of the Unified Sports Program, which focuses on acceptance and kindness to others.
“Nick is a huge inspiration to this team,” said Maddalena, adding that Nick is always the one to cheer up other people when they are having a rough day. “Nick personifies what Unified Sports is about.”
Offered in 190 schools statewide, the Special Olympics Unified Sports program teams up athletes with and without intellectual disabilities to play sports and develop friendships on and off the playing field. The program is presented in the schools by the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) and Special Olympics Connecticut. Southington High School has been an active participant of the Unified Sports program for six years now, and became runner up of the Exemplary High School Michaels Cup Winner award during the banquet.