Special Olympics Unified Sports® creates an opportunity for people without intellectual disabilities to join in the sports experience by playing on a team with athletes with intellectual disabilities. Not only do the players all have fun, but attitude change and transformation happens on the playing field and the experiences create lifelong friendships.
Unified Sports® combines approximately equal numbers of Special Olympics Athletes and athletes without intellectual disabilities (called Partners) on sports teams for training and competition. Age and ability matching of athletes and partners is defined on a sport-by-sport basis.
Throughout the year, Special Olympics Pennsylvania offers competition in bowling, long distance running/walking, softball, speed skating, volleyball and training in bocce, aquatics, athletics, basketball, equestrian, golf and powerlifting.
The concept of combining athletes with intellectual disabilities and those without was first introduced in the mid-1980s to provide another level of challenge for higher ability athletes and to promote equality and inclusion.
Unified Sports® enables Special Olympics athletes to:
- Learn new sports
- Develop higher-level sports skills
- Have new competition experiences
- Experience meaningful inclusion (each athlete is ensured of playing a valued role on the team)
- Socialize with peers and form friendships
- Participate in their communities leading to choices outside of Special Olympics
Unified Sports® programs are often initiated by the following:
- Special Olympics Programs
- Community Partners such as the Boys and Girls Club of America, park and recreation departments, church leagues or YMCA leagues
- An interscholastic or intramural after-school league at the Junior or Senior High level
- An independent league sponsored by business or civics groups
Unified Partners can be recruited from:
- Schools, universities or colleges
- Civic groups
If you are interested in the unique opportunity to become a Unified Partner, please follow the normal steps involved in becoming a volunteer by completing the online registration form. When you are contacted by the appropriate Special Olympics Pennsylvania staff person, just mention your specific interest in Unified Sports®.