There is a new soccer team at Grantsville High School.
The school has formed a unified coed soccer team that will take to the pitch for the first time this spring.
The Utah High School Activities Association has joined with Special Olympics Utah to provide an opportunity for special needs students to be members of competitive soccer teams at their schools. Some of the top athletes at the school will be their teammates.
Grantsville is one of about 15 schools in the state that will field a unified soccer team this spring in the first year of the program.
“Sometimes the term ‘special needs’ has a negative connotation. I just like to say that we will have 12 athletes on our team,” said Grantsville Athletic Director Patrick Ciervo, who will serve as the head coach.
The UHSAA lists special needs students as “athletes” and the other students on the team as “partners.”
When the year is over, Grantsville will have had a girls soccer team, boys soccer team and a unified soccer team compete this season. During the school year, a student can only participate on one of the three teams, according to rules set by UHSAA.
Ciervo jumped at the opportunity to form a unified team when he learned about the program back in January.
“About a year ago the Department of Education issued a letter of recommendation that schools start developing programs that will give special needs students the opportunity to have the same type of school experiences as the rest of the students. Utah has bought into the idea and was the 13th state to add these additional sports,” Ciervo said. Soccer and track are the two sports this year where special needs students will be involved.
Tooele and Stansbury high school track teams will welcome special needs students to their squads this year.
“Athletics is such a big part of the high school experience because students learn so much through participating on teams,” Ciervo said. “A lot of positive learning experiences come from athletics. The kids enjoy bonding with other teammates, learn to work together as a team, learn to work with different personalities, they learn sportsmanship, the idea of competition, learning about winning and losing and how to deal with it, and much more.”
This year’s GHS unified soccer team will include Daniel Gosling, Jonathan Webb, Daisha Bolinder, Mandy Wilson, Jarron Strah, Brenden Krogh, Korbin Strah, Devin Adams, Chance Warr, Evan Drake, Talisha Tuckett and Terin Wood.
Assistant coaches will be Alan Drake and Sheila Ciervo.
Adams is one of the top athletes at Grantsville High School. He made a major impact for the Cowboys in both football and basketball. The senior said he hasn’t played a lot of soccer, but is lobbying coach Ciervo to be the goalkeeper. “I think I can knock down a lot of shots because the goals will be about half the size of regular soccer goals.” he said.
“What I like about the special needs kids is that they are always happy,” Adams said. “Anytime you’re having a bad day you walk down the hall and they say something funny or tell you a joke. They just make me happy.”
Ciervo said if he is ever in a bad mood he walks from his classroom down to the special needs students’ home room and it can change his day.
“Literally, they make you happy. They all have smiles on their faces, and they love you for who you are. Their demeanor is just so much different than a lot of people. If I ever want to brighten my day, I know where I’m headed,” the coach said.
“The partners we have on this team are not only good athletes, but they are just great kids who can help others on the team,” Ciervo said. “This first year it is very important to get this porgam off to a good start with some great partners on the team.”
Unified soccer teams are allowed to play 12 players in a game, although they can have more than 12 on the roster.
The typical make-up of a team is seven athletes and five partners. Each team will have five players on the field during the game with three athletes and two partners. Athletes must substitute for athletes and partners for partners. The field will be about one-half the size of a normal soccer field. The goals are 12-feet wide by 6-feet high, about half the size of regular goals.
Games will last 30 minutes with two 15-minute halves.
Grantsville will play two matches on the road against two separate schools at one location on March 19, two matches on the road against two separate opponents at one location on April 9 and then play in two home matches against separate foes on April 23.