A feeling of joy rushed through me last February when I — along with about 1,900 other high school fans — witnessed a handful of Unified swimmers compete at the State swim meet. The cheering at the BYU pool for these athletes was as loud — or perhaps louder — than any of the other races throughout the 3A, 4A, 5A, and 6A state championship finals. It was the first time that students with intellectual or physical disabilities competed at the Utah State swim meet.
Unified Sports programs are dedicated to promoting social inclusion through shared sports training and competition experiences.
I thought to myself, “Wow! This is amazing. Not only should Tooele High be doing this, we need to do this.”
Since I volunteer as an assistant coach at Tooele, I approached our head coach Holly Tate and received her enthusiastic nod of approval to move forward.
I then drafted a proposal and shared it with our high school athletic director and principal. It also was greeted with wholehearted administrative support.
When the school year opened, I contacted Rebecca Ford, the THS special education teacher. Her energetic response was straightforward and direct. “Great. Love it. Let’s do it. Let’s do it now!”
Within a few days, Conner McInnes, Kennidee Benton, Heather Thomas, and Sabine Stokes became the newest members of the Tooele High swim team. Two of these students are in wheelchairs, one has Downs Syndrome, and another has been blind from birth.
As the first day of practice drew close, I experienced feelings of nervousness. Although I have coached for a few years and taught swimming since my youth, this was the first time I worked directly with this population.
We practice twice weekly. Although these kids are new to learning how to swim, they are all making significant progress. The plan is to have them participate in home meets this season.
I know that in addition to building inclusion among other team members, Unified swimming will increase youth leadership, advocacy, and respect within our team.
Often, we quickly label someone as “disabled.” Obviously, it is more important to know their names, strengths, gifts, and positive qualities.
The Lord clearly teaches that an inclusive world is a better world.
In Galatians we read “…for ye are all one in Christ.” The Apostle Paul instructed us in his epistle to the Romans, “Be of the same mind one toward another as Christ also received us to the glory of God.”
The Savior taught all of us, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”
When we include people who may have a disability into our lives, not only are they enriched, but our souls are uplifted as well.
Charlie Roberts is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints living in Stansbury Park.