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SLHS Unified Sports program recognized at Special Olympics breakfast

The partnership between Special Olympics and schools around Arizona has long strived to build lasting and meaningful relationships through its Unified Sports program. During the third annual Breakfast with Champions event at Palms RV Resort on Nov. 8, 2018, attendees from across Yuma County were able to see how impactful those relationships can be.

San Luis High School student Gerardo Valencia and his peer mentor Anthony Clark, a former San Luis student, spoke to the audience of more than 200 guests about how Unified Sports connected them for life.

“Unified Sports is program at high school where you are assigned a certain individual to meet with and mentor and care for and make sure they feel overall equal,” Clark said. “That brought me closer to Gerardo, who is my best friend now. I was assigned to be his peer mentor for two years and that’s how we got together. I’ve known him for three years now and I graduated last year, but we still see each other and have fun.”

Clark, who is now a professional boxer, said he works out with Valencia and shared several stories about how Valencia’s sense of humor and demeanor have improved his life. They also got a chance to see San Luis Principal Tammy Ray, San Luis Assistant Principal Rob Jankowski, Gila Ridge High School Athletic Director Tim Morrison, who formerly taught at San Luis, and others from Yuma Union High School District who were in attendance. Gerardo Valencia and Anthony Clark

Clark and Valencia’s story was meant to serve as an example for the way Unified Sports can impact individuals, schools and communities.  

“We want to empower new athletes and schools every single day,” said Jamie Heckerman, President and CEO of Special Olympics Arizona.

Part of that means bringing awareness to the communities Unified Sports serves. During Thursday’s breakfast law enforcement and border patrol members served as honor guard members and presented the colors, former San Luis Police Officer Luis Marquez spoke about the Law Enforcement Torch Run fundraiser, and other guests shared their experiences with Special Olympics and Unified Sports.

For everyone, that message is about empowerment and inclusion. Sahbreena Munoz, a special education teacher at George Washington Carver Elementary School in Yuma, told the audience how that works at her school. “If there is an event or an assembly students from every grade level are invited,” Munoz said. “If there is a performance, students from all abilities are invited to perform. Students are provided multiple learning opportunities with their same-age peers. They are provided with various social opportunities with them as well. We even have the Jared Norris Adaptive Playground in which students with wheelchairs and crutches can play right alongside their general-education classmates. Through these activities students can create meaningful and truly genuine friendships.”

About Unified Sports

Special Olympics is dedicated to promoting social inclusion through shared sports training and competition experiences. Unified Sports joins people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team. It was inspired by a simple principle: training together and playing together is a quick path to friendship and understanding.

In Unified Sports, teams are made up of people of similar age and ability. That makes practices more fun and games more challenging and exciting for all. Having sport in common is just one more way that preconceptions and false ideas are swept away.


Eric Patten