By Emily Lockwood
Parents cheer from the stands. Students celebrate on the field. It’s football season, once again.
But in this game, the points on the scoreboard are not what’s celebrated most. The focus is more on the effort, the team play and the collaboration between teammates on both sides.
Higley High School’s unified-sports program brings students with disabilities and general education students together in the classroom and in the playing zone. The program offers students with disabilities the opportunity to participate in interscholastic sports against schools from other districts, such as Chandler, Queen Creek and Florence.
“The unified-sports program at Higley High School really brings our entire community together,” Principal Nancy Diab Scott said. “It really shows the empathy our general education students can have in the classroom with helping students with disabilities.”
The class is taught by unified-sports teacher Brandon Large, who said the program has grown from 20 to 40 students this year.
“Since the first week of school, we have had about 10 kids request to be switched into the class,” Large said.
Large’s sister, Heather Smith, coaches the unified-sports flag-football team.
Flag football, soccer, basketball, track and field and a cheer team are all a part of the unified-sports program.
“I love it,” said student-athlete Megan Jorgesen, a senior. “I’m super friendly and super friendly to say ‘hi’ to, and my favorite part is to do some cheerleading.”
Her class partner, Sydney Butler, also a senior, added, “This program at Higley is super good for these kids. It just gives them a chance to meet more people around school and they have people to say ‘hi’ to between class periods. With the physical aspect of it, they get moving. They don’t always have the opportunity to get that exercise throughout the day. We’re just here to help them make sure that happens.”
Higley’s principal agrees.
“It really signifies what our motto is, which is ‘Unified in Excellence and Honor,’” Diab Scott said.