CIAC Michael's Cup: SHS Unified Sports tops in CT
When it comes to Unified Sports programs, Shelton High School is truly the best around.
School officials learned his week that Shelton High has been named the CIAC Michael’s Cup Unified Sports High School of the Year. The school will officially receive the award during the CIAC awards banquet on April 30 at the Aqua Turf in Southington.
“To be recognized as an exceptional Unified Sports program in the state, it is such a huge honor,” said school Director of Athletics John Niski. “To have the program and the people who work so hard being recognized for their efforts is an incredible.”
Niski said being recognized as Unified Sports High School of the Year is humbling, considering all involved are simply doing what they feel is right for the special athletes.
The Unified program emphasizes sportsmanship no matter what the season or score. Everybody gets an opportunity to score and players learn to help and to root for opposing team members.
Niski credited coaches Mike Gambardella and Karen Devonshuk, both retired teachers who have returned to assist in making Unified Sports basketball, in the winter, and track and field, in the spring, a competitive yet entertaining experience for the special athletes as well as the partners.
“We have remarkable coaches, incredible kids and great support from the administration,” said Niski. “It is a real team effort. We're all honored.”
Shelton High School has had a Unified Sports program for some 15 years, but its growth in the past couple of years, according to Niski, has the school considering adding the Unified Sports soccer program next fall. Overall, Niski said some 15 special athletes and 30 partners — fellow high school students who volunteer their time — make up the program.
Along with regular league competition, Niski said Shelton High School hosted a Unified Soccer event this past fall as well as tournaments in the winter for basketball and spring for track and field.
“For the special athletes, this is a great opportunity for them to be involved in the school, to be a part of the school community,” said Niski. “Unified Sports is a great way to be competitive and have fun.”
“For the partners, these are kids that came out to try because they have heard this is a great experience,” added Niski. “But when they are involved, they instantly find this is incredibly rewarding. There is an incredible sense of joy that comes from helping other kids. They all have fun and compete. They build relationships with each other. It is really awesome to witness.”
Niski said Shelton has a long history of involvement in the Special Olympics, and this award just demonstrates the community’s giving spirit, no matter the age.
“For the Shelton High community to participate at the Unified Sports level, it’s great for the kids,” said Niski. “I am so happy that we can be a model school for other schools to follow. We are just doing what we think is right, and we’re excited about what we do.”