by Lindy Holmberg, WWU Western Front Online
Taylor Arbuckle, a sophomore at Western studying special education and elementary education, has been involved with the special education programs since she attended high school.
Arbuckle said the Unified Sports program provides something for college-aged special needs students to look forward to after high school.
Tom McCann, the head of the volunteers, has been working with Unified Sports for about six years. The program has athletes at the middle school and high school levels and now provide soccer for college-aged athletes.
“In our school districts when the special needs athletes turn 21, they go out into the workforce and there are no more sports for them at that point,” McCann said. “So this is creating the opportunity that once they are out of high school, they get to start playing other sports and get to continue playing unified sports, because it stops after they’re 21 but we’re trying to to make it longer than that.”
Each team has five players on the field during every game, three special needs athletes and two partners.
“Unified Sports is where you have special need athletes and then you have partners who are not special needs who help control the game, teaching them to understand where to pass, what direction to go,” McCann said.
Arbuckle said there were 18 colleges around the state at the tournament, and Western placed 4th in their division.
“We are Western students, or Bellingham School District community transitions members, which is the next step for people with intellectual disabilities to start out kind of learning how to live on your own,” Arbuckle said.
Taking the field for their first soccer game, Western had athlete Matthew Best in the goal and the rest of his teammates out ready for the whistle.
“I like a lot of sports, I like goalie,” Best said. “I have been playing [soccer] for a long time but this is my second year playing for Unified.”
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