Sutherlin High School recognized nationally for 'Unified' sports club

File photo of Sutherlin High School, January 16, 2016. (SBG)

SUTHERLIN, Ore. — For some high school students, participating in athletics or activities can be a challenge. In Sutherlin, however, the high school is getting national attention with the way it works to include all of its students.

Sutherlin High School is known for its athletics, but it wants to make sure that everyone is involved. That's why they created a club called 'Unified,' for athletes to play together, whether they have a disability or not.

"I like it because I actually get to play sports," said Patrick Fitzgerald, a senior at Sutherlin High School. "Some schools probably wouldn't have let me play because of the intellectual problem, but this school really helped me come out, you know? It's fun."

Sutherlin is one of the only 38 schools nationwide to receive an award for inclusion from the Special Olympics. Now, the school wants to share that honor with everyone.

"Recognize the students and the staff for their efforts — it's a lot of work to do this," said Tracie McKnight, the Unified Club Advisor. "For everyone to be on the same page, and supportive of the same program is really important."

With the success of the club, school officials see an increase in social skills, confidence and attendance in students who participate.

"I wouldn't really talk to that many people," said Fitzgerald. "Then Mrs. Knight told me about this and asked me if I wanted to try it, and why not? Loved it, first practice I went to, and I've done it ever since."

Sutherlin High School is hoping the Special Olympics can one day be normal for students in all schools throughout the U.S.

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