HUNTSVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Huntsville High School is one of 36 schools across the U.S. and the only one in Arkansas to make the 2020 ESPN honor roll and be recognized by the Special Olympics.
It’s all because of their efforts to create a school community that promotes social inclusion, bringing all students together — those with disabilities and those without, using sports as their avenue.
The school also has to meet several national standards on inclusion set by the Special Olympics to be chosen.
Coach Greg McCone said the school added a Special Olympics Unified Sports program three years ago. Student-athletes with and without disabilities compete together in regional and state-level competitions in basketball, flag football and bowling to name a few against other unified sports teams. In the spring of 2019, the school won its first state-level championship.
“Seeing the kids working together, friendships that they’ve made that they normally wouldn’t have any other way, going to sit with someone at lunch… that has been the big thing just seeing the kids get along and the relationships they build,” said Coach McCone.
Students said the program has helped them grow personally, make new friendships, be more confident in school — and of course, be better athletes. Through the Unified class they work on leadership building skills and promoting the unified message through their community.
Destny Calico and Kreed Thomas are both seniors at Huntsville High School and part of the program. Their message is they just want to be accepted and treated like everyone else.
“The thing that most people don’t understand is that kids that have disabilities and kids that don’t have disabilities are the same, you just have to get to know them,” said Calico
“We still understand, it just takes us a little longer to understand certain things, so you can talk to us as a normal person and give us the respect or the attention you would give most people,” said Thomas.
There is a smaller-scale program in middle school. Thomas and Calico said they enjoy working with the younger kids and teaching them what they’ve learned out on the field and in class.
The students said they hope the program continues to grow, so they can participate in more competitions.
The school received a banner for their recognition and plan on having a community celebration in the future. McCone said he is glad to be part of a school where everyone is welcomed and that these efforts benefit its entire community in the long run.