Special Olympics: How Unified Sports Promote a Culture of Inclusion
Overcoming Obstacles Mediaplanet talks inclusion with Chris Bence and James Black, athletes on Team D.C., a unified basketball team competing in the 2014 Special Olympics USA games.
Mediaplanet: How has Special Olympics changed your life?
James Black: By playing sports with people and helping others, it taught me respect and to not let anyone bring you down. You need to bring people up, and that’s what Special Olympics does.
MP: What is your favorite part about Special Olympics?
JB: I like the fact that everyone plays hard and that makes everyone a winner. There are no losers when you play hard. Also, in Special Olympics everyone is one big happy family.
MP: Have you always liked playing the sport you play?
JB: I’ve always loved playing basketball since my mother gave me a ball when I was 5-years-old. I’ve played ever since. It’s my favorite sport along with football.
MP: What would you say to other child athletes with disabilities that are afraid to follow their dreams?
JB: Keep your head up and always try your best. Don’t let anyone disrespect you and don’t let anyone say you have a disability.
MP: How did you first get involved with the Special Olympics?
Chris Bence: I began playing in the Unified Basketball league five years ago. I always thought the Special Olympics was an amazing organization and believed in their mission. I continue to participate thanks to the high level of competition and camaraderie we experience each week.
MP: Sports has always served to unite people of different backgrounds. How has the experience of being paired together altered your perception of people with intellectual disabilities?
CB: Through sports and competition we can communicate through our play. Everyone is equal on the court and you can really see what the athletes can do. It's amazing to watch the athletes overcome their disabilities through sport.
MP: What is the most gratifying portion of the partnership for you?
CB: The most gratifying part of playing with the Special Olympics athletes is simply being teammates and friends. I have as much as a connection with these athletes as I have on other teams I've been part of. And it never fails that at least once a year, an athlete will make a game winning shot that is better than any moment I've experienced in sports.
MP: Do you feel that major inclusion activities like this help change the overall public perception of those with intellectual disabilities? If so, to what effect?
CB: I do. Sometimes people need to see to believe. These athletes love showing off their abilities as well. Once the public sees these athletes in action, they can overlook the disability and focus on what they can accomplish both on the field and off the field.
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MP: In what ways do you feel we can continue to promote a culture of inclusion moving forward?
CB: We need to spread the word about programs such as Unified Sports. I believe once people learn how the program works they will want to participate or implement similar programs in schools or work environments. The athletes get so much from this program. I believe, however, that the partners get even more.