By JEN CARDINES
Southington High School was one of 31 schools across the state to be named a Unified Champion School at the Youth Leadership Summit on Friday, Dec. 9. This national award, formerly known as “Project UNIFY,” is given by the Special Olympics Unified Sports.
Unified Sports, which started in Connecticut, is a combination of mainstream students (partners) and special education students (athletes) who form bonds and friendships.
“We’re like the blueprint that other states are using to spread Unified Sports throughout the United States,” said Southington head coach Marguerite Maddalena.
A Banner Unified Champion School must have a Unified Sports program with inclusive youth leadership and school-wide engagement. The program must also demonstrate that they are self-sustainable in their activities. SHS exemplified these criteria in many outlets.
Maddalena said that the team promotes inclusion by running the R-word campaign: Spread the word to stop the word. They also participate in the school-wide pep rallies, play in the blue and white halftime games, and are self supporting, thanks to Southington UNICO, which pays for everything.
“We would not have this program if it weren’t for UNICO,” Maddalena said. The SHS Unified team runs four sport seasons, with about 55-60 kids throughout the different seasons.
Selected students from this year’s team were chosen to attend the conference, hosted by Aetna in Hartford, on behalf of SHS.
“We bring three partners and one athlete to the convention,” said Maddalena. “The kids all learn skills to bring inclusion to our school, acceptance, and change their attitudes towards being a good leader.”
Nicole Popowicz, Emma Agli, Josh Krenke, and Matt Delorenzo, accompanied Maddalena at the award ceremony, along with her coaches Denise Ingriselli and Andrew Larkin. The group attended the event to bring home the banner.
The students also get a varsity letter at the end of the school year at the banquet that UNICO sponsors.
“The greatest athletes in the building are our Unified Sports athletes,” said SHS principal Brain Stranieri, “I think the people that would really agree with that statement would be our student body.”
In between their fall, winter, and spring seasons, the team stays active by going to bowling alley on the weekends, or the archery range.
“They have dual seasons. It’s multifaceted during one season,” Stranieri said. “They put their heart and soul into the program. All of them are outstanding.”
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Jen Cardines, email her at JCardines@SouthingtonObserver.com.