Skyview High School’s Unified sports program received a prestigious honor on Tuesday, and to celebrate the occasion, the high school fittingly came together.
The Special Olympics selected Skyview to be one of 683 schools nationwide as a National Unified Champion School, which recognizes the school’s commitment to inclusion. A banner celebrating the honor was unveiled Tuesday before an all-school assembly.
“It means the world, but it truly hasn’t sunk in yet,” said Julie Graves, the coach and liaison for Skyview’s Unified sports program.
In Unified sports, students with and without disabilities train and compete as teammates. But for team members, they are more than just teammates.
“Playing Unified, it means just happiness, togetherness and really just a family,” said Cyi Buckmeir, a 2022 graduate of Skyview High who returned for Tuesday’s event. “A lot of people say that playing sports is a family. But Unified is really a family. Win, lose, make a basket, don’t make one, nobody cares. Just as long as everyone can come out and play and have fun, that’s all that matters.”
Tuesday’s event included dignitaries from around the area, including Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle, who made a declaration that Tuesday was “Unified Champion School Day” in Vancouver.
Then the athletes took the court for a seven-minute demonstration of a Unified game. Skyview’s Unified season begins with games in January.
“The relationships you get from the other kids and the coaches are just amazing,” Skyview sophomore Kahlia Richman said. “You just get so much out of it.”
In addition to the Unified sports program, a champion school must also meet standards for inclusive youth leadership and whole-school engagement. Skyview will hold the champion school status for four years.
“Our athletes and our partners really show everyone, not just here at Skyview but in the entire community, what inclusion really means,” Graves said. “I believe every school should have an inclusion program, whether it’s a high school, middle school or elementary school. And if we can help make that happen, that would be wonderful.”
Buckmeir hopes Tuesday’s events raise awareness of unified sports and other inclusion programs. And even though he no longer attends Skyview, he still feels part of the family.
“We put in a lot of work to be recognized for a lot of years,” he said. “It means a lot that we are receiving that recognition and people know about us.”