special olympics soccer raritan high hazletHosted by Special Olympics New Jersey at the Robbinsville Fieldhouse

Photo: Hazlet Middle School player advances the ball.

Lawrenceville, NJ – On Sunday, November 2, 2014, Special Olympics New Jersey hosted its first-ever Shriver Cup High School Unified Soccer Tournament at the Robbinsville Fieldhouse in Robbinsville, NJ. This multi- school event showcased teams from eight area school districts throughout the Garden State competing on Unified Sports® teams.

 

Unified Sports® brings together athletes with and without disabilities on sports teams to train and compete side-by-side, each one a meaningful and equal part of the team.

Competitors hailed from Robbinsville High School, Ewing High School, Hopewell Valley Regional High School, Montgomery High School, and Raritan Valley High School (joined by students from Hazlet Middle School); with the top three teams in the tournament representing Union County Schools, Hamilton West High School, and West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North.

These high schools all participate in Special Olympics New Jersey's school partnership program, a partnership that fosters communities and environments of acceptance, and promotes equality, leadership and unity by making physical education, sports and extracurricular activities accessible to all students. Teams were fielded by members of their school’s Project UNIFY club, a club that promotes social inclusion and Unified Sports and gives students the opportunity to come together to practice in anticipation of the Shriver Cup.

“The Shriver Cup was awesome! What a great way to end the soccer season,” said Cheri Wieczerak, a member of Robbinsville High School’s Project UNIFY club who attended as a spectator. “I was impressed. Between the way teams interacted and played together, to the camaraderie among the teammates, you could tell they understood the day was about inclusion.”

“The seed of inclusion has in fact begun to grow throughout the Ewing community,” says Emily Wright, Special Education teacher and Unified soccer coach. “Students in the Life Skills program are branching out and becoming more involved with their peers outside of the walls of academic instruction. They are active members of the Cheerleading squad, the Freshman Football team and manage the Varsity Football team. The support they receive from their peers and faculty in Ewing is immeasurable. The Unified soccer tournament is the first step in inclusion and acceptance in all aspects.”

Understanding the power that sports holds to help foster inclusion, Special Olympics recently launched a global “Play Unified” youth campaign to inspire and mobilize a powerful and Unified generation of young people to help fight inactivity, intolerance and injustice.

The #PlayUnified movement looks to young people with and without intellectual disabilities to join together to be the leaders to make change in their schools and communities. Through Special Olympics activities this Unified generation will shape the world to one of respect, acceptance, tolerance and human quality. #PlayUnified is inspired by a simple principle: training together and playing together is a quick path to understanding, acceptance and friendship, breaking down the barriers that exist for people with intellectual disabilities.

This year’s Shriver Cup marks a first step in realizing the vision of New Jersey’s Act Concerning Athletic Activities of Students with Disabilities (P.L.2014, Chapter.10), a New Jersey act signed into law on June 19, 2014 by Governor Chris Christie. This law requires school districts to ensure that students with disabilities have opportunities to participate in athletic activities equal to those of other students. Special Olympics New Jersey is committed to assisting schools and school districts in meeting this charge.

More than 40 New Jersey schools are participating in Project UNIFY, with thousands of students of all ages organizing inclusive sports and awareness programs in their schools.

Special Olympics New Jersey’s Unified Sports® programs are also made possible by a generous contribution from Walmart and the Walmart Foundation.