By Tamara Uselman, Superintendent
Steven Claunch has some good advice: “Prove them wrong.”
Steven reports he was born with no fingers on his right hand and a right leg that is several inches shorter than the left, involving surgery, spikes, wires, and daily painful stretching. Steven says, “Does it hurt? Yes it does. But I focus on what I can do, not on what I cannot do. Everyone has obstacles, a disability, a hurdle. We face a choice. Let the obstacle overcome you or overcome the obstacle.”
Sara Bohrer and Ben Lervick “proved them wrong” recently by developing Inclusive Sports which offer team participation in a school uniform to all students with disabilities or not. Bohrer and Lervick pitched inclusive sports to administration and the school board, promising to find partnership funding. The district could fund some essentials (officials, coaches) and the participants would fundraise to make a go of the program.
The coordinators, coaches, parents, and volunteers went to work quickly, moving the vision of inclusive sports from a “what if” dream to an urgent to do list. Huge on the worry list was this question: will students actually participate? The answer? In droves! Today Inclusive Sports has bragging rights to 152 students in bowling and flag football; and the track season is just around the corner.
Many parents said they never dreamed their child would play on a school sports team. Inclusive sports made that dream come true. Transportation was a huge challenge – but a brief one. The responsibility to get to and from the bowling alley was on the students and parents. Then the new friendships blossomed. Partner-peers began offering rides to the athletes. Many parents said they never dreamed their child would be invited to just hang out with same-age students without disabilities. Not only did students share rides, many went out for shakes after bowling, choosing to be friends.
Will every peer-to-peer match up create lifelong friendships? Maybe. Maybe not. Forever is not the point. For now, now is the point, and healthy friendships born via Inclusive Sports experiences are transitioning into our high school classrooms and hallways. Thank you to the coaches, counselors, and teachers who have created the vision for this program in our schools. (Thank you for the coaches of traditional sports who built and maintain programs worth emulating!) And keep “proving them wrong”, this past year Dana Van Heukelom received a grant award from the BPS Foundation to begin an inclusive orchestra program!
Join the effort. On February 8, every donation to Inclusive Sports made via www.givingheartsday.org will be matched dollar-for-dollar up to $10,000 to create an endowment dedicated to the ongoing support of inclusive sports. If a donation is not in your budget right now, please help us spread the word about this great opportunity through your personal networks and your social media networks with the hashtag #ijoinedtheteam.
Claunch said, “There is no dishonor in having a disability. And I won’t let anyone diss my ability but I don’t want anyone’s pity either….I have a disability but so do you. I also have an ability.”