'This is huge': Shelton High celebrates banner year for unified sports

Photo of Brian Gioiele

SHELTON - The high school’s national recognition as a Special Olympics Unified Champion School is now on display for all to see.

Shelton High, with unified sports coaches Karen Devonshuk and Mike Gambardella, athletes and partners, was presented the national championship banner on Nov. 6. Athletic Director John Niski was also presented his CIAC Athletic Director of the Year award.

“This is huge,” Niski said about the national honor, which comes a year after the school earned the Michael’s Cup for being one of the top unified sports programs in the state.

“So much goes into this success - from our coaches, athletes, partners … and the support from the student body, administration at Shelton High, the Board of Education,” Niski added. “The support is remarkable, unbelievable.”

Special Olympics Connecticut announced in September that Shelton High is among a select number of schools to receive the distinction.

“I am so proud of the commitment of our students and coaches in achieving this honor,” Shelton High interim Principal Kathy Riddle said at the time.

“They are providing valuable leadership while engaging our whole student population,” Riddle said. “Our unified program is serving as a positive example toward the inclusion of all people of all abilities and hopefully transforming our school and community in the process.”

Niski said the support illustrates the school’s culture - one of inclusion and a desire to help others.

“Our coaches and I work very hard to provide a quality program for our students because we love the feeling we get from the joy and camaraderie that our students have because of their participation in our programs,” said Niski, named the Michael’s Cup Athletic Director of the Year for his contribution to the success of unified sports.

“It is critical for our students with special needs to be able to feel a strong connection to our overall school community and student body,” Niski added. “Unified sports and Best Buddies are ways that we can help bring everyone together as one Gael family.”

Niski said the partners get just as much from the experience as the athletes, and “this is evidenced by the huge participation rate and incredible number of students who are participating each year.”

Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools is a strategy for schools pre-K through university level that promotes social inclusion by bringing together students with and without intellectual disabilities.

“I am grateful for the support of our coaches, school and district administration which allows our programs to continue to flourish and grow,” Niski added.