The gym stands were filled with exuberant students cheering for their classmate, who pumped his triumphant fist in the air after a left-handed bank shot.
A state championship? A winning shot? No, this basketball game was important for a different reason: the sense of inclusiveness and friendship intellectually disabled students receive from high school classmates.
“I myself have been able to gain and get a great deal of perspective on what truly matters in life,” said Mountain View high school senior Halle Farris, during a Club Unify presentation at the West Ada School Board meeting.
Club Unify brings together disabled and non-disabled students with the goal of competing and training as teammates, and participating in leadership events.
A Mountain View swim team captain, Farris said, “Seeing the look on someone’s face after making a basket or how happy it can make someone by simply saying ‘hi’ and asking how they’re doing, has been able to provide you with an immeasurable insight on the importance of demonstrating kindness to anyone and everyone.”
This year Mountain View and Twin Falls School District’s Canyon Ridge high schools were the only two Idaho schools recognized as Special Olympics National Banner Unified Champion Schools (UCS), a distinction reached by achieving three overarching standards of excellence.
Students with and without disabilities trained and competed in athletic events like soccer, basketball or even pickleball; they also planned and led advocacy and awareness activities.
The final standard measured how much the whole school promoted inclusive events like pep rallies or having a high level of participation at sporting events.
Special Olympics athlete and Mountain View student Layton Zimmerman told the board, “My experience … has been awesome. Club Unify helped me a lot through my challenges and weaknesses. I met a lot of new friends and everyone else can too.”
Matthew Creighton, Idaho’s UCS coordinator, believes there are lots of “Laytons” out there in high schools all over the state who “haven’t broken through their shell yet.”
Idaho’s two schools are among 166 schools in the country to win the distinction, according to the organization’s website. The title of national banner school, Creighton explained, represents less “than point zero one percent of all public schools in the United States.”
Canyon Ridge received an additional honor and will host an April 21 event with Special Olympics and ESPN where the school will be recognized as a “Top-5 Special Olympics Unified Champion School.”