Special Olympics; Unified Sports; Intellectual Disabilities
Unified Sports, a division of Special Olympics, has been fighting to integrate inclusion into daily life since its establishment in 1989. Special Olympics has long held the importance of athletic competition for individuals with intellectual disabilities (ID). Unified Sports goes a step further by uniting those individuals with ID, referred to as athletes, and those without ID, known as partners. In this format, athletes and partners play on the same team and compete against opposing Unified teams of similar skill level, thus promoting an inclusive atmosphere. This has been very successful in the state of Rhode Island, with 40% of high schools having Unified Volleyball and Basketball teams. Notably, after high school participation in Unified Sports declines with fewer opportunities in the state for continued involvement, and no Unified teams at any of the twelve colleges or universities in the state prior to this project. Unified Sports has seen its success at hundreds of institutions across the country with its main goal to promote friendship and inclusion through sport. With this in mind and in partnership with Special Olympics RI, we set out to launch the first Unified Basketball team at the University of Rhode Island. After many hours of planning, we started a team of seventeen athletes, fourteen partners, and two student coaches. We scheduled two practices and four games against newly formed Bryant University and Providence College teams. We broke off into two teams based on skill level in accordance with Unified Sports standards: Team Rhody and Team Ram, to maximize playing time and positive experience. As the inaugural season was truncated in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, we chose to evaluate the experience that just our team had in the few weeks they played together. A Google forms survey was remotely delivered to both athletes and partners, whose overall experience will be analyzed separately in order to determine whether there is a difference between athlete and partner experience. Survey questions are directed to discover whether new friendships were formed, the level of excitement to play, and the importance of collegiate Unified Sports. We hypothesize that both athletes and partners will rate their experience as overall positive, with their role on the team not making a significant difference in outcome. The results of this project indicate that collegiate Unified Sports is important and should be expanded throughout the country.