E.O. Smith High School Receives National Award for Disability Inclusion in Sports
The state Special Olympics Unified Sports program has designated the E. O. Smith High School as a "Unified Champion Banner" school, a national award for schools based on inclusivity for those with disabilities in sports.
E. O. Smith is one of 31 schools across the state to receive the banner. The school's Unified sports basketball program has more than 70 participants.
"The banner shows that we are recognized in the same way that other CIAC sports are recognized," said Mary Murphy, a teacher at E.O. Smith who coaches the unified basketball team.
Criteria for receiving the award include school-sponsored activities that are planned to do things with, and not for, students with disabilities. The school must also have at least one activity designed for whole school engagement around awareness of those with disabilities.
The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference sets forth rules and regulations for each Unified Sports team in the state. The teams can include both females and males, and include those with and without disabilities.
Lauren Tofolowsky, a special education teacher at E. O. Smith who also coaches basketball, sees the positive impact the basketball team has brought to her students on a daily basis.
"These programs are what the students look forward to," Tofolowsky said. "It gives them an opportunity to be themselves and just have fun. It really is the highlight of their high school careers."
Murphy said for non-disabled students, basketball gives them an opportunity to make new friendships.
"They get to know students who they normally wouldn't be able to interact with, because they maybe wouldn't have the option to get to know a student who isn't in their class, so it really does unite our school community and help foster those relationships," Murphy said.
E. O. Smith also has other inclusion programs, such as Best Buddies, which focuses on social inclusion, a unified theatre program, and a unified physical education course open to both disabled and non-disabled students. The school hopes to provide unified soccer and volleyball programs in the near future.
Toward the end of basketball season, the unified basketball team plays the staff in a large event that athletes, students and faculty all rally around.
The result has been a sense of community at E.O. Smith that every student is accepted.
"We feel strongly that this is an inclusive school," said Tofolowsky. "We really feel like we have such a strong support system here at school, and the students are very active in it."