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Southampton Achieves Special Olympics “Banner” Status Leadership Creating an Inclusive School Community

Special Olympics New York President & CEO Stacey Hengsterman today announced that nine New York high schools – including Southampton High School – have been named as National Banner Unified Champion Schools in recognition of their leadership in creating an inclusive school community where all students are accepted, celebrated, and included. The distinction marks the highest level of achievement for Unified Champion Schools in the nation.

Schools achieving banner status in addition to Southampton are Churchville-Chili, Horseheads, Irondequiot, Newark and Victor in the Genessee Region, Starpoint in Western New York, Ithaca in Central New York and Saratoga Springs in the Capital Region. 

In a Special Olympics Unified Champion School, students with and without intellectual disabilities play on the same interscholastic sports team, primarily basketball and bowling. These same students also serve as youth leaders who engage the entire school community in activities that encourage and promote inclusion among their peers.

“Students, coaches and educators in more than 10,000 Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools across the country are changing a generation by choosing to include all students in all activities, and our banner schools in New York are the best of the best,” said Hengsterman. “We are incredibly proud to kick off the 2020-2021 school year by recognizing the achievements of our banner schools and encouraging others to join this critically important movement to inclusion.” 

Statewide, Special Olympics New York partners with more than 220 Unified Champion Schools and nearly 10,000 participating students. Upstate, a partnership with the New York State Public High School Athletic Association has led to rapid Unified growth in recent years.

“There’s nothing more rewarding than being a Special Olympics New York coach,” said Unified Coach Brian Tenety. “Every day, I see teammates with and without intellectual disabilities forming real connections by training and competing together. That connection, and that confidence, transcend the playing field. By creating an inclusive atmosphere where people of all abilities train and compete together, you expand the athletes’ comfort zone, you build their confidence, and you expand their community. My athletes walk out into the world and they feel confident because of this program.”

“This is an amazing honor for Southampton, one that our schools, students, parents, and entire community has accomplished together,” said Southampton Principal Brian Zahn. “We are so proud of the efforts of our Unified athletes and Coach Brian Tenety. We look forward to celebrating their accomplishments with a banner ceremony in the spring!”

“We are extremely honored,” said Darren Phillips, director of Athletics, PE, and Health. “We are fortunate to have Coach Brian Tenety at Southampton. His enthusiasm for the Special Olympics Unified movement and his passion for working with our students is incredible. He also works with nearby school districts, encouraging them to play Unified and training their staff so that our students have the competition they deserve. Thank you to Special Olympics, Coach Brian, and all of the administrators, teachers, staff, and parents who support us in the important endeavor.”

A Unified Champion School receiving national banner recognition is one that has demonstrated the highest commitment to inclusion by meeting 10 standards of excellence. The standards were developed by a panel of leaders from Special Olympics and the education community nationally. The primary activities within these standards include: Special Olympics Unified Sports (where students with and without disabilities train and compete as teammates), Inclusive Youth Leadership and Whole-School Engagement. To achieve banner status, Unified Champion Schools must also demonstrate that they are self-sustainable or have a plan in place to sustain these activities into the future.

Cheektowaga, Guilderland, Iroquois, and Niagara Falls High Schools were recognized as the first Special Olympics Banner Schools in New York last year. 

To get involved in Unified Sports with Special Olympics New York, visit specialolympics-ny.org/unified or send an email to unified@nyso.org.

About the Author

New York Trend is a weekly news publication that focuses on issues and lifestyles of the African & Caribbean American communities throughout the New York metropolitan area and Nassau and Suffolk Counties of Long Island. It is a respected and well recognized news publication that has been in existence since 1989. Owner, Publisher and Executive Director, Dr. Teresa Taylor Williams has been at the helm of this award-winning publication since its inception. New York Trend continues to be the only black woman-owned, metropolitan newspaper in New York and Long island. New York Trend is the largest black-owned newspaper throughout Nassau and Suffolk counties.

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