This Saturday, April 18, Shoreline Community College will join 15 other colleges and universities from Washington and Oregon to compete in the first ever collegiate-level Unified Sports soccer tournament through Special Olympics Washington.
Unified Sports is a program initiated through Special Olympics promoting social inclusion through shared sports training and competition experiences. By joining people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team, it promotes the simple principle that training together and playing together is a quick path to friendship and understanding.
While Unified Sports has been operating at about 100 high schools statewide for five years now, 2015 marks the first year of collegiate-level play. According to Chara McElfish, Director of Program Development for Special Olympics Washington, what’s most impressive about moving Unified Sports into higher education is that it was a student-led initiative.
“We had a lot of students who were involved at the high school level who were graduating and wanted to continue playing with the organization at college,” McElfish said. “We’re very proud that the event has made it to the college level, and we’re also very proud of the students who took the initiative to make this transition happen.”
The Shoreline Unified Soccer team includes a mix of SCC Varsity Soccer athletes and SCC student non-athletes, as well as former SCC students, volunteer student coaches and students from the Shoreline School District. Shoreline’s first game on Saturday will take place at 11:30 a.m. Tournament events run from 7:45 am to 7:00 pm.
Melissa Schuetze, Shoreline’s Unified Soccer team organizer and goalkeeper for SCC Women’s Soccer, has been involved as a volunteer with Special Olympics since high school and jumped at the chance to join the Unified team at Shoreline.
“I just love helping people,” Schuetze said. “I love putting others in front of myself and making others smile. I missed the chance to play with the Unified team in high school so was so glad when this opportunity presented itself at Shoreline.”
The opportunity presented itself on campus in part through the efforts of Barbara Fiske, Program Manager of the Community Integration and Employment Program in the offices of Special Services at Shoreline. Through her work helping co-found the campus Disability Awareness Society, Fiske helped establish and facilitate a strong relationship between Special Olympics and the college.
“We’re so excited to be partnering with Unified Sports on this new venture,” Fiske said. “When people have fun together and get to know each other as persons and individuals, it creates a meaningful experience that alters attitudes and removes the type of labeling that typically goes on and allows people to talk to each other as people instead of stereotypes.”
“It’s all about respect,” she said, “and when you learn to respect the person it’s hard to go back to seeing them as a stereotype again.”
Sixteen colleges are participating in Saturday’s tournament at Seattle University, including fifteen from the state of Washington and one from Oregon. Participating Washington state colleges include, but are not limited to, Gonzaga, University of Washington, Western Washington University, Walla Walla Community College, Pacific Lutheran University and Shoreline.
Shoreline’s team plays at 11:30 a.m. on Sports Field #3. Go Phins!