I love Unified more than words could ever describe. I love it for what it has taught me about myself, others and God. I love it for the relationships I have built. I love it for having a monumental impact on my heart.” Megan Brown ‘18 Recent Graduate – Regis Jesuit High School
What kind of program could have this type of impact on a high school student? The Unified program is about sports, friendship, acceptance and much more. Regis Jesuit High School is a Unified Champion School with Special Olympics. We do not have a special education program at Regis Jesuit, but we partner with Special Olympics Colorado to bring our students and Special Olympics athletes together.
Build it and they will come! This is exactly how our Special Olympics Unified program started. We did not know what we were getting into; we went on faith. We started with one Unified basketball team. We had four student coaches and eight partners, but we needed athletes from Special Olympics. Finding them required reaching out to the community. One of our teachers, who is also an alumna, has a brother who had just completed the transition program at the local public high school. He wanted to be a Regis Jesuit Raider just like his sister, so we welcomed Tyler as our first athlete. Word spread and soon we had a full team of athletes Tyler, Megan, Travis, Manju, Shane and Derrick—our Regis Jesuit Unified Dream Team. And our school community has never been the same.
The first year was so exciting! Not knowing exactly what the program should look like, we treated the Regis Jesuit Unified team just like every other sports team at the high school. We had practices or games every Wednesday and Sunday. We celebrated each other’s successes and comforted each other in losses. We had team dinners, team Masses and started and closed every practice and game in prayer. The prayer time really helped our team bond. It was a chance for both the athletes and partners to share their worries, their sadness and their joys. It was here that we learned to see and accept each other as true friends.
The next year we formed a second basketball team as we added more Special Olympics athletes and student partners to the roster. Before long we added both soccer and flag football teams to our schedule. We continue to find ways for more student involvement with two student coaches and two student managers/referees per team, student announcers, student team photographers and “fans in the stands.”
The partners and athletes are far more than just teammates—they are a family, with a bond so strong among them that they truly are brothers and sisters with and for each other. Together, they are creating a community of acceptance and love that is changing the environment in our school. They are there for each other celebrating birthdays, graduations and other special occasions. When one of our athletes, Carter, was making his confirmation, he found the perfect sponsor with his best friend and team partner, Ryan. A favorite activity of the team is to do service work together. We assist the Regis Christian Life Community with the distribution of food to a needy community in Denver. Service work helps us take our eyes off of ourselves and the differences of our teammates and affords us the opportunity to see what great things we can do together.
In response to our Unified team, the Regis Jesuit Special Olympics Club has grown rapidly. Our students see the fun we are having and recognize that this group is something special. They want to be a part of it. As the club has grown, we have been more available to help at various Special Olympics events around Denver. We also organize pep rallies and Spread the Word campaigns throughout the school year. With the support of Special Olympics Colorado, we started a fundraiser similar to dance marathons held at numerous universities in the U.S. Our Special Olympics Shindig is a community event organized by the club members. This past March, we held our fourth event in support of Special Olympics Colorado. To date we have raised more than $40,000.
Towards the end of each school year, student partners are required to write a reflection paper on their experience with the Unified Program, offering an opportunity for them to examine the relationships they developed and the change they have seen in themselves and in athletes. Their reflections reveal amazing insight into their own growth and their awareness of the beauty and promise in every person they encounter. One student wrote:
The athletes have shown me that loving one another without reservations has the ability to foster hope through acceptance. I want to look at everyone with the athletes’ eyes. I want to see people for their innate goodness and their brilliant light. I thank God every day for this club, and I know that I will honor the foundation it has given me through living acceptance out in my everyday life.”
The impact and success of the Regis Jesuit Unified Program is best captured in a quote by St. Theresa of Calcutta: “I can do things you cannot; you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things.” Our Unified Program animates those words every day.