Side by side, students from Columbia’s special education and regular education programs play for the same team in Unified Sports. Just like traditional high school athletic programs, the student athletes wear uniforms, compete against other schools and have fun playing together.
Columbia’s Unified Bowling team, which was created this winter, won the Section II title on Friday afternoon at the East Greenbush Bowling Center. Throughout the match, they motivated one another and gave each other high-fives.
They finished with an undefeated 5-0 record this season.
“It’s a great opportunity for students to be on a team and to learn and grow together. It’s a win-win,” said Columbia athletic director Michael Leonard.
Unified Sports is sponsored by the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) and Special Olympics New York. It provides athletic opportunities that are not normally given to kids with special needs.
“We’re all about promoting student athletes,” said NYSPHSAA assistant director Todd Nelson. “This helps us do that.”
Columbia’s team has 12 bowlers – six from special education classes and six from regular education classes. They are coached by special education teacher Lisa Johnas.
“It’s fun,” said Nate Liebro, a sophomore in Columbia’s special education program.
He and Maddie Burns, a sophomore from regular education classes and a standout pitcher on the Columbia softball team, were interviewed by CBS6 News on Friday. They both said they loved the experience of being on the team this year.
“I’ll definitely be here next year,” Burns said.