Sharing the joy: Austin High School holds its first ever Unified Sports Day

Published 5:51 pm Friday, February 23, 2024

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It was the middle of a school day, but Ove Berven Gym was flooded with intensity and joy as Austin High School hosted its first ever Unified Sports Day on Friday.

The event, which was organized by health and physical education teacher Jacy Bodi brought together students from Austin and Fairmont in the name of encouraging athletic involvement for all students.

The day’s highlight was a basketball game in Ove Berven Gym that was played in front of students and staff from AHS and Ellis Middle School.

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“We want them to have fun today,” Bodi said. “A lot of these kids don’t always get the chance to get out and move or maybe meet other students. We have the idea that everyone should have the opportunity to participate in sports. It might take a little bit longer in figuring out how to get everyone playing or what might need to change in the rules, but there is always a way to get everyone involved.”

Last year, AHS officially became a Unified Champion School due to its peer partners program and physical education program that unites students of different abilities together.

Austin junior Lucas Stewart was one of the mentors helping out on Unified Sports Day and he also works one-on-one with students in a unified physical education class.

“It’s really rewarding to be involved in this. You learn that not everyone has the same opportunities and you really gain a lot of empathy and you understand what they go through and help them out,” Stewart said. “Sometimes it might be harder for them to be focused because they’re too energized during the day. I think it’s helpful for them to have a unified class to meet with their peers, who aren’t the same kids they see in the classroom.”

Austin freshman Enar Zaki, who competes in cross country and track and field, was one of the other student mentors on hand. She sees Unified Sports as a great way to get to know and befriend students who she would not see in her other classes.

“You get to learn how unique everyone is in their own way. They may not do everything how other people do it, but you get to show them how you do things and you work together,” Zaki said. “I think everybody should have the same chance to exercise, move, play sports and have fun in general through movement.”

Bodi said that AHS made sense for a Unified Sports site as the school has three gyms and plenty of space. Once the day began and the students began intermingling and getting on the move, it was all worth it for Bodi and all of the others who attended.

“It’s really gratifying to see the relationships that students build,” Bodi said. “We have graduates who come back and we have athletes coming here to help out.”

Unified Sports Day was an idea that spurred out of an opportunity brought forth by the Special Olympics of Minnesota.

Part of the day is a competitive Unified basketball tournament in the Twin Cities that brings Unified programs together for games with refs, rules and coaches. Since AHS and Fairmount weren’t quite ready for that intense of a tournament, Bodi produced the idea of hosting a day.