The student news site of Edwardsville High School

Tiger Times

The student news site of Edwardsville High School

Tiger Times

The student news site of Edwardsville High School

Tiger Times

Unified Sports Sparks New Friendships Between People with Shared Interests

photo courtesy of AP Images
Students from Willow Canyon and Shadow Ridge High School play an exhibition flag football game on the same team on Monday, Feb. 6, 2023 in Surprise, Ariz.

For the last eight years, special education teachers Christopher Sumpter and Kayla Magruder have been working with Special Olympics to run Unified Sports programs, which pair FLS student athletes with partners so they can participate in sports together.

“The first sport we had was flag football, and every year it’s just kind of expanded more and more,” Mr. Sumpter said. “Now we have unified football, soccer, basketball, track and field. We’re looking at adding bocci coming this spring… we have unified e-sports, dance.”

According to Mr. Sumpter, the Unified Sports programs give students the chance to meet new people and bond as teammates.

“The main thing that I’ve seen is that it’s grown a lot of close friendships between people who maybe wouldn’t have known each other otherwise,” Mr. Sumpter said. “It gives an opportunity for people with different and diverse backgrounds to meet and participate in a shared activity together.”

As well as building new friendships, for sophomore partners AJ Brewster and Resse Edmondson, Unified Sports was an opportunity for old friends to re-connect.

“We’ve been friends since kindergarten, so we’re very close,” Edmondson said. “We got separated during middle school because of the Liberty and Lincoln split, so we didn’t really talk much… and then this year, I joined Key Club, and we started hanging out again and… started doing Unified Sports together.”

Through the Unified Sports programs, Brewster and Edmondson joined a Youth Activation Committee, for which they give presentations with Special Olympics and participate in an event called Summit.

“For the Youth Activation Committee, me, AJ, and Mrs. Magruder traveled to Bloomington, and we did a thing in Wisconsin,” Edmondson said. “We made so many friends… it was only a few weeks ago, but we miss them so much and we have so much fun with them. It’s always so sad to leave, but when we go back, it’s so much fun.”

Brewster’s favorite thing about Unified Sports is when his friends call him before they meet to make sure he’s going to be there. It makes him feel happy and excited to show up and say ‘hi’ to everyone.

“AJ is a really big people guy,” Edmondson said. “He’s friends with everybody. We’ll be walking in the hallway, and he’ll say ‘hello’ to almost everyone we pass, and I’ll ask, ‘who is that?’ and he’ll just say, ‘my friend.’”

According to Mr. Sumpter, the Unified Sports programs hold a special place in his heart, because they remind him of the reason he wanted to pursue special education.

While he was in high school, Mr. Sumpter was introduced to students in his school’s equivalent of an FLS program through his participation on the yearbook staff. The yearbook adviser was also a special education teacher and would have her students help the staff.

Mr. Sumpter became close friends with one of the students he met through yearbook, and they still talk to this day.

“I started thinking, ‘how come I never got a chance to get to know any of these people,'” Mr. Sumpter said. “That’s why I started thinking about doing special education, and one of my goals was to build that inclusion and make sure there are opportunities for kids with and without disabilities to hang out together and build those close friendships.”