Unified Sports: RHS has a new — and inclusive — volleyball team

A new sports program at Ridgefield High School had its fourth successful practice Monday, April 24.

Unified Sports, a branch of Special Olympics, focuses on bringing students of different abilities together. And RHS is already feeling the positive vibrations from its unified volleyball team, made up of student athletes in special education and their partners.

“We utilize them a lot, which is nice,” said coach Kailey Kowaric of her 14-student roster, which includes members of the school’s junior varsity volleyball team. “Partners can do some hand-to-hand guiding and showing the athletes that way.”

The unified volleyball team is currently getting ready for its first tournament, coming up on May 17.

But the pressure is off.

“That’s the best part,” said Kowaric. “Getting to combine something, because we really want it to feel like any other after-school sport. But at the same time, it’s fun and there’s no pressure of having to try out and perform a certain way.”

So far, the students have been enjoying every practice.

“I feel like they’re all learning how to cooperate and have fun,” said Kowaric. “That’s the best part.”

Kowaric is a special education teacher, along with the team’s two other coaches. They all got their coaching certification in preparation for being Unified Sports members.

Movement and fun

During the hour and a half of practice, the players take a turn at different drills using a beach ball.

Coaches expect the team will be ready for a weighted ball soon before they move on to a volleyball.

During games, there are three partners and three athletes on the court.

The point is to get some exercise while developing athletic skills.

“We want to make it active and fun,” she said.

“We’re not trying to dumb it down or make it easy; it’s all about moving, getting to know each other and having fun while we do it.”

Next season

Kowaric said the high school is planning to have a Unified sport every season.

“We want to do it based off their interests,” she said.

“I think our options are basketball, soccer. Also, track and field is an option in the spring. We’ll see based on feedback if next year they want to do that instead of volleyball.”

Parents have emailed her saying how excited they are at the prospect.

“They’re just really excited that they’re having fun and wanting to come back every week,” Kowaric said.