Cheektowaga, Guilderland, Iroquois, Niagara Falls High Schools Named As New York’s First-Ever National Banner Unified Champion Schools

Special Olympics New York Seeks Continued Growth in 2019-20 School Year

Buffalo, NY – Special Olympics New York President & CEO Stacey Hengsterman today announced that four high schools – Cheektowaga, Guilderland, Iroquois and Niagara Falls – have been named as New York State’s first-ever National Banner Unified Champion Schools. The distinction, made by Special Olympics North America, marks the highest level of achievement within the Unified Sports movement.

Special Olympics Unified Sports include participation by students with and without intellectual disabilities playing on the same team. Statewide, Special Olympics New York partners with 172 Unified Champion Schools and 8,200 participating students who are leading the creation of inclusive school communities.

Hengsterman says continued program growth is a top priority as the organization celebrates its 50th anniversary during the 2019-20 school year.

“If you want to see what true acceptance and inclusion looks like, go to a Unified game or walk the halls of a Unified Champion School,” said Hengsterman. “Students and coaches playing Unified are changing the world, and the four schools earning banner recognition have proven to be the best of the best. We look forward to working with our partners across the state this school year to continue meeting an urgent – and growing – need for Unified Sports in New York’s schools and communities.”

“We are thrilled that the first four schools in New York have been named to achieve this important national recognition. This marks a considerable and rapid growth period for Generation Unified in one of the country’s largest Special Olympics Programs,” said Special Olympics North America Vice President Andrea Cahn. “Students, coaches and school administrators in Cheektowaga, Guilderland, Iroquois and Niagara Falls epitomize what it means to play and live unified. These communities serve as excellent models for schools throughout New York and around the country, and it couldn’t be more fitting to celebrate SONY’s 50th anniversary with these schools leading the way into the next 50 years of inclusion.”

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.

“In my 30 years as an educator and 19 as a superintendent, I cannot think of another program that so beautifully brings students together to learn, to compete and to have fun as a genuine team,” said Guilderland Central Schools Superintendent Marie Wiles. “This is so much more than being “inclusive.” It is a real “all for one and one for all” experience that is priceless. I could not be more proud of our district, our coaches, and our teams.”

“As we enter our fourth year with Unified, we continue to see growth in our district and the community, with our athletes with intellectual disabilities, our regular education partners and volunteers coming together as productive, caring members of an inclusive society,” said Iroquois High School Unified Coach Sean Lauber. “We are honored to be recognized and will continue to implement more programming to reach even more students, faculty/staff and community members. Thank you for all the hard work of our athletes, partners, volunteers, coaches, administration, school board – and especially, parents – that made this possible.”

“The Unified Sports program has certainly had a tremendous impact upon many schools throughout New York state,” said Robert J. Zayas, executive director of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association, which offers interscholastic Unified Sports in partnership with Special Olympics New York. “The recognition of these four schools is a testament to the dedicated efforts of their administration and student body to find new and innovative ways to create a school culture that truly benefits all students. We are extremely proud of these member schools.”

The Unified Champion Schools program is supported in part by funding from Special Olympics, New York State and Golisano Foundation. Special Olympics New York is seeking new corporate partners to join Delaware North in supporting program growth across the state.

Alongside today’s announcement, Special Olympics New York released a Unified Sports recruitment video via social media, encouraging broader participation in the movement.

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 Special Olympics New York

Special Olympics New York is the largest state chapter in the country, serving more than 67,000 athletes across New York with year-round sports training, athletic competition, and health screenings. The organization also partners with more than 170 schools statewide to offer Unified Sports. All Special Olympics New York programs are offered at no cost to athletes, their families or caregivers. For additional information about Special Olympics New York, to learn more about getting involved, or to make a donation, visit www.specialolympicsNY.org.