In conjunction with the 2019 Special Olympics Ontario Invitational Youth Games, athletes, partners and educators from all the participating countries have been invited to the Youth Leadership Summit.
Attendees will learn, share, and create new ideas for inclusion within their schools through observing the Games, brainstorming ideas, and through collaboration with Special Olympics staff they will gain the confidence and knowledge to promote programming in their communities.
Cold Lake High School (CLHS) was selected to represent Alberta at the Summit and Kelly Eagles, the Athletic Director is excited for the opportunity.
“We are just so excited for the entire experience and the unknown is kind of part of the excitement,” said Kelly.
“We don’t have any expectation except we are going to learn something, it’s going to be a great experience, and we’re going to have fun.”
Along with Kelly representing CLHS are students: Kyle Lobb and Erin Walker, and Media Teacher Jared Nichol.
Cold Lake High School has been involved with Unified Sports since it started in Alberta.
Kelly teaches a life skills class for students with special needs and nearly all 15 participated in their most recent baggo tournament and 8 of them actively participate in basketball.
The culture at CLHS is inclusive, but implementing Unified Sports has just allowed the athletes to flourish.
The Unified team is always represented at pep rallies and other Royals sporting events and Kelly is currently in the process of designing jerseys for them emblazoned with the tagline “Unified in Sport.”
This year they will introduce a Unified Athlete of the Year award at the annual sports banquet as well.
“IT’S REALLY CHANGING THE CULTURE AND JUST MAKING EVERYONE REALIZE THAT THEY JUST WANT TO BE A PART OF THINGS TOO AND WHEN THEY PUT ON THEIR UNIFORM THEY WANT TO FEEL THE SAME KIND OF PRIDE AS ANYONE ELSE THAT PUTS ON A UNIFORM,” SAID KELLY. “JUST GIVING THEM THE SAME KIND OF SUPPORT THAT WE WOULD GIVE ANY OTHER TEAM IS IMPORTANT TO US.”
And this inclusive culture has inspired partners at the school to jump right in as well.
“Students are seeing that and at first I was asking them to join and now they are seeking me out,” said Kelly.
Logistically it is difficult for CLHS to attend events in Calgary or Edmonton, so Kelly and Jared have taken it on themselves to act as leaders in the Northeast region.
Cold Lake High School has played host to its own bean-bag toss event for the past two years and hopes that other schools in the area will get more involved as well.
“We don’t mind picking up the slack and then hopefully there will come a time when other schools do feel more comfortable – and not everyone knows how to navigate this – so it’s not always someone choosing not to its maybe they don’t know how to,” said Kelly.
“We want to be a resource for other schools in our area.”
As the Alberta representative for the Youth Leadership Summit they will have a chance to gain more knowledge on promoting Unified Sports in their region.“WE’RE HOPING TO GO THERE COME AWAY WITH A FEW THINGS TO ADD TO OUR PROGRAM, TO BE INSPIRED, TO GET OUR STUDENTS EXCITED,” SAID KELLY. “AND THEN WE WANT TO SEE A BIG EVENT BE RUN AND HELP OUT AS MUCH AS WE CAN AND SUPPORT AS MUCH AS WE CAN.”
One of the key takeaways Kelly is expecting if for the summit to provide more tools for Kyle and Erin to act as spokespeople for Unified at their school.
Kelly stated that Kyle is already an advocate for participation, but more resources can only improve his leadership role amongst the athletes.
Erin is also heavily involved in Unified Sports at the school, not only through participating in events, but also through best buddies, a program at CLHS where students with and without intellectual disabilities can hang out.
Overall, Kelly hopes the students can make connections, create friendships, and enjoy comradery amongst their peers. She plans to use their experiences to help achieve some of their goals including building awareness within the community.
Another focus for the program is building a strong connection with the local Special Olympics affiliate to share resources and help each other grow.
Getting involved with Unified Sports was a no-brainer for Kelly and CLHS and she hopes more schools will continue to do the same.
“I KNOW IF WE JUST KEEP PROMOTING IT AND JUST MAKE IT SOMETHING THAT THEY CAN’T IGNORE AND THAT THEY HAVE TO INCLUDE – I HOPE THEY JUST BUY IN,” SAID KELLY.
Unified Sports was introduced in Alberta in 2015 in partnership with the Alberta Schools’ Athletic Association (ASAA).
For more information on Unified events or if your school is interested in hosting a Unified event, check out our Unified Sports page.
Also, be sure to follow our coverage of the Youth Games on social media and check out the Special Olympics Ontario Invitational Youth Games on Twitter to stay up-to-date on all the action from Toronto.
For more information on the Youth Leadership Summit, go to https://youthgames2019.com/coaches-corner/youth-summit/