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Edison Prepares for Unified Sports Program

The Edison Local School District is the latest site gaining interest in a unified sports program and is well on its way with new jerseys from the Cleveland Browns.

   Edison High School intervention specialist Jason Ensinger is coordinating the effort with district Director of Special Education Jamie Angelini and EHS Leadership Council Advisors Greg Marsh and Danah Beaver, and hopes are to have a track team up and running this spring.

   “[Superintendent Bill Beattie] reached out to the staff in the middle of January and said Jefferson County was trying to get more teams involved in unified sports,” said Ensinger. “He wanted to see if anyone was interested in having it in the district.”

    Shortly afterward, officials were in contact with Steve Forte, activities director for the Jefferson County Special Olympics and county Board of Developmental Disabilities, and Kristi Peters, director of youth engagement for Unified Champion Schools, the latter which is part of Special Olympics Ohio. Ensinger said the program is still well within its infancy at Edison but students and adults have shown interest in giving their time for the effort. About 10 students, including special education students and members of the EHS Leadership Council who will act as “buddy athletes,” are planning to attend a Student Leadership Summit at JCBDD’s Jeffco Center in Steubenville on March 13 to gain more insight.

   “All of this is built on inclusion and creating a community within the school. We have a lot of pieces to put together and people willing to get involved,” he continued. “I think the leadership summit is going to help us figure out what we need to do. It’s beyond the athletic side of things and there are components of having events for the whole school.”

   Indian Creek and Steubenville High Schools already have programs in place and a Zoom meeting is being set with Forte to discuss what is involved in organizing the program. For its part, Edison hopes to form a track team with meets in May and expand to include flag football, basketball and soccer next year. The jerseys supplied by the Browns will clothe athletes for those teams.

   “I think [the jerseys] are really showing the push for unified sports in Jefferson County,” Ensinger said. “Once we get the dots connected, we’ll hopefully find the success that the other schools have had.”

   Angelini commented that the unified sports were a welcome addition to the district.

   “I became involved in unified sports, given the nature of my role as the director of special education. I have always been a volunteer for Special Olympics and a former recreational therapist, so I was excited to hear about this opportunity for our students and district.  For me, what it means to have this program at Edison is two-fold: awareness and inclusion. Awareness encourages education and understanding. It builds empathy and encourages people to think about how others live their lives and the barriers they may experience. Unified sports bring players both with and without intellectual disabilities together on a team, giving them the opportunity to spend time with one another and share a common interest. This interaction supports the development of friendships, as well as social inclusion,” she added. “I think with us just getting this started that the program is still unknown to most. Once the program begins, I think that we will have more interest and the program will grow exponentially. “

   She said it will impact students with disabilities by giving them the opportunity to improve their social skills and develop positive relationships with their peers, which also can help to promote a sense of belonging and improve overall well-being.

   “I am hoping that this opportunity will be a huge success for all of our students, staff and community not only here at Edison, but all of Jefferson County.  I look forward to the friendly competition with the other area teams as well.”

   Meanwhile, Marsh said the Edison Leadership Council members were eager to be part of the program.

   “When Mr. Beattie expressed his desire for Edison to have a unified sports team, I emailed our group. I told them the first five students to reply back will be on the team. It was like rapid fire,” Marsh noted. “Almost immediately, I received eight emails. I even had one of our best leaders run down to my classroom to say her email wasn’t working correctly, but she wanted to be part of the team and wanted to make sure she made the cutoff.  To say our students are excited would be an understatement.”

   He added that the students will serve as “buddy athletes” to the actual players by getting involved in the competition and trying to help the team win.

  “The thing I wish parents and community members could see is how compassionate our general population is toward students with mental and physical disabilities. I truly believe this will boost morale with our student body and highlight the importance of inclusion for all students who walk in our doors.”