A unified sports program is commonly described as a sports program where all students, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, disability or socioeconomic level can participate equally in sports.
Brigid Wilson, a health and fitness professor at Houston Community College and a previous coordinator for Special Olympics teamed up with Shaneisha Weir, the recreational sports specialist at Houston Community College, to give unified sports a try.
CR: What did you want to achieve from this program?
BW: Our main goal was the same: inclusion in the college level through sports. A secondary goal for the participants was to meet friends or acquaintances in different areas of the college. Third, of course, was the goal of health.
SW: With rec sports, we really wanted to start a collaboration with other departments on campus. We read about unified sports and wanted to try it to connect with other people.
CR: Which sports did you decide on?
SW: It was a combination. We started with some of the most popular sports, which were indoor soccer and basketball, then we added uncommon sports – volleyball and baseball – to see how the students would respond but to also let them know other types of sports are available.
CR: How did you market the program?
BW: Marketing strategies at this school are kind of trial and error. We bought yard signs, tried emails, made flyers and did social media.
SW: Word of mouth worked the best here. Social media may be something we can use in the future, but it’s just more of getting things together and promoting.
CR: What was the biggest challenge of the program?
SW: I thought the biggest challenge was going to be getting students to participate, but that actually wasn’t the biggest obstacle. It was getting them to come off campus. We tried to get locations where they were literally five minutes away; if walking, no more than a 10-minute walk. We couldn’t get students to come off campus, but getting them to come to an event on campus was actually a lot easier.
CR: What were you able to take away from trying to program?
BW: We have done very well at cooperation. All the work is, to me, worth it when people call me coach – they don’t even know my name. Or when the students recognize each other and ask how they’re doing even though they wouldn’t normally know them. I’m happy with that success.
CR: What advice do you have for implementing a unified sports program?
SW: I think for campuses starting, depending on what their population is and what their students are attracted to, there’s other ways they can get their students involved that doesn’t necessarily revolve around doing actual physical sports. It could be something small like a ping pong tournament or a board game social where you add your unified kids and college kids together. Don’t just look at it in regards to a sports aspect – look at it in regards to everything that is recreational to try to get students involved.