Since 2013, Special Olympics New York (SONY) and the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) have offered Unified Champion Schools programming through interscholastic Unified Sports and inclusive youth leadership clubs to NYSPHSAA member schools. Special Olympics New York provides initial seed funding, training for coaches, advisors and youth leaders, and ongoing technical support and rules interpretation.

Unified Sports is an inclusive sports program that unites individuals with intellectual disabilities (athletes) and without intellectual disabilities (partners) as teammates for training and competition. Each week we want to recognize an athlete and partner who embody the spirit of Unified Sports. This week our honorees are Amy Zelasko and Jayden Dubard, and their student coach Madeline Rushford!

Jayden is a junior who played a key role on the varsity football team, and also a Track and Field all-star. Jayden has grown into a great contributor in his second season with Unified basketball. Amy has developed into a true leader on and off the court.  She has embraced the role of explaining what Unified sports have done for her publicly.  She has helped other athletes learn their position on the court. Madeline has been coaching Unified Sports for three years, and has recruited many of her peers to the program thanks to her passion and experience.

As far as how Unified Sports have impacted them, Amy said:

I really enjoy playing sports with my close friends.  I have been able to grow as a leader to help other friends.

Jayden remarked:

Unified has changed me by showing that kids with special abilities are the same as “normal” students.  These athletes have changed my life so much.  I joined the Unified team freshman year and was amazing.  We started bowling in the winter and never had such a great time bowling.  The athletes make sports so much more fun because of their heart.  Whenever I see the athletes getting ready to bowl or shoot a basket all I can do is smile.  I think if I never joined the Unified team I wouldn’t be the same person.  The athletes are the reason why I play.  My teammates are the best teammates I can have and wouldn’t ask for anyone else.  These are the things that are important in life.”

Beth Brawn-Celotto, who nominated Madeline, praised Madeline:

This student coach is an all around asset to the team. She is willing and able to handle anything thrown at her, and completes the task with a smile. She leads with respect and kindness and genuinely cares about each of the players on her team.