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Buckeye sports program brings together students with, without disabilities

Buckeye Union High student teaches another to swim in Unified Sports team.jpg
Posted at 4:06 PM, Sep 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-16 20:23:39-04

BUCKEYE, AZ — On a sunny Thursday afternoon, a group of students practices swimming together at the community pool, getting ready for their swim meet next week.

Some know how to swim and help teach others who don’t. These students are part of the Buckeye Union High School Unified Sports team.

“It’s one team, and the goal is you don’t know who’s who,” said Travis Haley, the Unified Sports coordinator for Buckeye Union High School District.

The team is made up of students with and without intellectual disabilities. It includes students with autism, and social-emotional disabilities; while some are physically disabled as well.

The district started with just one Unified Sports basketball team seven years ago. Now, there's a waitlist and the district is offering 10 different programs across three of its high schools.

“We bring each other up, and it’s just a happy place to be in,” said Zaneida Woodruff, a sophomore at Buckeye Union High School.

Woodruff tells ABC15 although she’s played other sports before, she sees a difference in the camaraderie being on the Unified Sports team.

“It’s a wonderful community because once you [are a part of the team], you get attached,” Zaneida said. She tells ABC15 that she feels more comfortable around children with special needs compared to some of her other peers

Haley said being a leader and a coach for the Unified Sports teams gives him chills.

“It’s kind of like seeing our kid grow up and playing a sport, and then they hit the home run or hit the game-winning shot. I get to see my kids do that season after season,” Haley said.

He says that families cry and get emotional watching their students play and compete in various sports, adding that some of these parents never thought their student would get to be in a jersey and compete with other Unified Sports teams.

Stephanie Torres, a junior student, says joining the Unified Sports team allowed her to compete for the first time.

“I get to do all these things I’ve never done before,” she said, adding that it feels good to meet people who are like her and who are not.

Just last year, the district placed on ESPN’s Top 25 Special Olympics Honor Roll.

“Oh, that feels great because we take all dubs (wins) just like everything else,” Zaneida said.

“We’re better than everybody else,” Stephanie said as the two laughed.

“It’s just as important for our students in general ed to be part of the team, to know that the world is a bigger place than just this little bubble that we’re in,” Haley said.

“Unified is so fun to be with, and at the end of the day, we kind of are all the same,” Zaneida added.

While getting a win always feels good, it’s the feeling of being together and learning from one another that’s the real prize for the team.