By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Brighton’s Unified Sports program – which combines students with and without intellectual disabilities on competitive athletic teams – has been recognized nationally as one of the nation’s five exemplary “Unified Champion Schools” for 2018.
The Unified Sports program is part of Special Olympics, and champion schools have met 10 national standards of inclusion excellence developed by leaders from the Special Olympics and education communities. Brighton was nominated by Michigan’s Special Olympics program and will be recognized as exemplary along with schools from California, New Jersey, North Carolina and Virginia.
Brighton also was one of 132 schools representing all levels of education recognized nationally as a “Banner Unified Champion School.” Also receiving the honor from Michigan were Detroit Loyola High School, Saline’s Pleasant Ridge Elementary School, Holt’s Washington Woods Middle School and Adrian College, Ferris State University, Michigan State University and Central Michigan University. To become a Unified Champion School, a school must show inclusive youth leadership and whole school engagement in addition to its Unified Sports program.
From that list of 132 banner schools, an honor roll of 30 was selected with Brighton as Michigan’s representative on that list.
The announcement of the five exemplary Unified Champion Schools as made Thursday by ESPN, a partner in the Special Olympics’ national recognition program.
“This recognition symbolizes all of our students, families, staff, and community as being leaders in building and spreading a culture of inclusiveness, respect, and care for each and every person,” wrote Brighton athletic director John Thompson is making the announcement to the school. “We could not be prouder of our Brighton Family! Your attitudes and actions speak volumes about each of you as individuals but also the collective strength of Brighton Nation coming together for the good of all!”
Brighton has Unified teams for flag football, basketball and bocce. Approximately 30-50 students – including special education students and their general education partners – participate in each sport, with a number of athletes participating in multiple. Brighton’s Kensington Lakes Activities Association last year formed a Unified League with programs from Hartland, Novi, Northville and Grand Blanc.
Brighton’s program is directed by special education teachers Jody Renicker and Lisa Johnson. The school will received its Unified Champion Schools banner during an assembly later this fall.
The MHSAA provides support and promotes Unified Sports, with teams frequently playing games as part of the March Magic Hoopfest also supported by the Greater Lansing Sports Authority. Click for more information on the Special Olympics Unified Sports program.
PHOTOS: (Top) Brighton students compete on Unified teams in basketball and flag football, and show off their medals at an event last school year. (Middle) Brighton’s team huddles for a photo during basketball season. (Photos provided by Brighton High School.)