By Steve Sears
Unified Sports – which is offered by the Special Olympics and the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association and includes athletes with and without disabilities on sports teams — will be in place for Basketball for the winter season, and for Track and Field in the spring. Wayne Township middle schools may also welcome Unified Sports as early as the 2020-2021 school year.
“Information about the Play Unified School Partnership grant received was presented at a recent board of education meeting,” explains Jennifer Varano, Director of Student Services for Wayne Schools. “The Board of Education unanimously approved the grant application and the formation of Unified Sports and Clubs. The grant is offered by Special Olympics NJ and will allow us to expand on meaningful and inclusive extracurricular options for students. The application was submitted through the collaborative efforts of Student Support Services and the Wayne Hills and Wayne Valley Athletic Departments. This year, our grant submission plan was focused on three components which include: Unified Sports, Unified Club, and a Whole School Engagement activity. As part of the grant, professional development for staff is offered to support these components.”
Jeff DiLollo, Assistant Principal of Athletics at Wayne Hills High School, was familiar with Unified Sports when it was applied when he worked in the Randolph school system and suggested the idea last year. “I have a little past experience with Unified Sports,” he says. “I was on the (NJSIAA) committee for Unified Sports some years ago, and basically what we’re looking to do is start this year as a small – which I think is advisable, to get our feet on the ground – process. We currently have a STARS program, which makes the Unified Sports program such an easy transition to make.”
Varano explains the STARS program. “The application process itself was able to get off to a fast start as we were able to maximize the solid foundation Wayne Schools already has in place with its successful STARS program. Initial conversations started in the spring and we began work on the proposal soon after. For background, STARS (Students Teaching and Reaching Students) is a program that provides social opportunities for students to emerge as leaders. The lessons learned from the process of expanding this program to now district-wide and the overall experience has proven to be invaluable, when planning and executing new initiatives.”
Dave Drozjock, Assistant Principal of Wayne Valley Athletics, says that the Basketball and Track and Field teams will be co-ed, and that initially the two Wayne high schools will compete against each other, but also that both may up pick a game or two from other Passaic County schools who also have the program. “Players with and without disabilities will gain an appreciation of each other during that time when they’re not only competing, but when they’re practicing together and doing drills together. They’re developing these positive relationships with each other and gaining a better understanding of how they go through life and so forth. That’s important to us, and we feel that the benefits that both of them will get is immense.”
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Mark Toback applauds the new inclusion. “We are thrilled to have an opportunity to partner with the New Jersey Interscholastic Athletic Association and Special Olympics New Jersey to bring Unified Sports and Unified Clubs to the Wayne Township Public Schools. In many ways, the addition of these programs is a natural extension of the great work already in progress in our schools to bring together all student populations in meaningful ways. We look forward to what we know will be excellent experiences for our high school students and staff members and we thank our dedicated staff members for making Unified Sports and Clubs a reality.”