Champion of Inclusion: Amsterdam High School Earns Highest Special Olympics Recognition Ahead of 2021-22 School Year

Amsterdam Becomes 14th High School in New York to Achieve National Banner Status

Amsterdam, NY – Special Olympics New York and the Greater Amsterdam School District today announced that Amsterdam High School has achieved National Banner status in recognition of its leadership in creating an inclusive school community where all students are accepted, celebrated, and included. This distinction marks the highest level of achievement for Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools in the nation.

In a Unified Champion School, students with and without intellectual disabilities play on the same sports team. They also lead events and activities throughout the year that encourage all students to practice and value inclusion. At approximately 250 Unified Champion Schools statewide, the program is reducing bullying and teasing, overturning negative stereotypes, and inspiring healthy social interactions.

“There are more than 10,000 Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools across the country – National Banner status is reserved only for the best of the best,” said Special Olympics New York President and CEO Stacey Hengsterman. “We are incredibly proud to recognize Amsterdam High School for its leadership in creating a school environment where inclusion, tolerance, and acceptance of all students is the rule and not the exception. Congratulations and thank you to the entire school community.”

Amsterdam High School started their Unified basketball and bowling programs in the 2014-2015 school year. Each team has 20 players, and members of the school’s YAC (Youth Activation Committee) travel to many games. Amsterdam athletes and partners also attend Special Olympics New York competitions and an annual YAC summit.

“As the new Superintendent of the Greater Amsterdam School District, I was incredibly impressed with the Unified Sports Program I heard so much positive information about,” said Amsterdam Superintendent Rich Ruberti. “I went to my first Unified Basketball game at the High School and decided then that we should see how we can expand this into other sports in the District.”

“Unified Sports is an integral part of the academic and athletic program and community here at Amsterdam,” said Amsterdam Athletic Director Steve Nolan.

“When I started this program seven years ago, I never imagined the opportunities it could bring to our school community,” said Amsterdam Coach Jessica Verrigni. “I have never been so proud of the partners for the positive roles in the athletes’ lives, and the athletes for the impact they’ve on the partners’ lives and my own.”

“Unified Sports means so much to me because I got better at my favorite sports,” said Amsterdam Athlete Ryan Salisbury.

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 the following: 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.

The following New York high schools have previously earned National Banner recognition: Cheektowaga, Churchville-Chili, Guilderland, Horseheads, Irondequiot, Iroquois, Ithaca, Newark, Niagara Falls, Saratoga Springs, Southampton, Starpoint, and Victor.

If you don’t have this at your school, you should! Click here to get started or send an email to unified@nyso.org.


 About Special Olympics New York

Special Olympics New York is the largest state chapter in the country, serving more than 51,000 athletes across New York with year-round sports training, athletic competition, and health screenings. The organization also partners with about 250 schools statewide to offer Unified Sports, where students with and without disabilities compete as teammates. All Special Olympics New York programs are offered at no cost to athletes, their families or caregivers. The organization has earned the Platinum Seal of Transparency from GuideStar.com, making it one of the most trusted charities in the business nationally. For additional information about Special Olympics New York, to learn more about getting involved, or to make a donation, visit www.specialolympicsNY.org.