Wildcats Join Cardinals in Unified Offering for the First Time in 2020
Unified basketball made its official debut at the University of Kentucky this winter. Thanks to the efforts of Special Olympics College Club student leaders and the UK Intramural department, a Unified division was added to the traditional intramural basketball schedule this season. The effort follows the example set by the University of Louisville Intramural department, who first established their own Unified basketball league back in 2017.
Both universities began the season with a fun 4v4 kickoff night in the fall and then followed up with league play from the end of January to February. Championship nights were held at both schools on March 2.
Throughout the season approximately 45 athletes participated in the UofL league, while 13 athletes were a part of the inaugural season at UK. Both leagues averaged about 20 Unified partners – a mix of current undergraduate and graduate students. In future years the goal is to even up the number of athletes and partners. It is necessary, however, to keep the participation numbers manageable for the schools who are fitting the Unified division into their already demanding schedule of traditional intramural games.
The chance to play Unified Sports on college campuses is a growing trend across the nation bringing new inclusive opportunities to Special Olympics athletes. Nearly 300 colleges and universities currently offer some level of Unified programming. Contributing to the trend is the fact many schools are members of the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA), which partners with Special Olympics North America to offer Unified Sports opportunities at their Regional and National events.
Unified Sports at the college level offers a natural transition for students graduating from high schools that participate in the Unified Champion Schools program. Nationwide there are over 7,600 (and counting) Unified Champion Schools. For other participants, college programming is often their first time participating in a Unified sport.
Opportunities at the college level are ideally suited towards the 18-30 year age range of SO athletes, in keeping with the goal of Unified Sports to pair partners and athletes of approximately the same ages.
The opportunity to bring Unified basketball to campuses in Kentucky would not be possible without the leadership and support of the intramural departments at both universities. We are thankful they Choose to Include & Play Unified!