During a pep rally Nov. 21, IKM-Manning students accept a “Unified Champion School” award from Special Olympics Iowa.
During a pep rally Nov. 21, IKM-Manning students accept a “Unified Champion School” award from Special Olympics Iowa.

December 6, 2017

The beach ball IKM-Manning students bopped across an auditorium late last month had a simple message printed across its red surface: “Special Olympics — play unified.”

Their dedication to “playing unified” earned IKM-Manning students and staff members a “Unified Champion School” designation from Special Olympics Iowa this fall.

About 20 schools throughout the state were selected to receive the award, which recognizes schools’ efforts to be inclusive to all students, including those with disabilities, not only through Special Olympics but in all school activities, according to a news release.

“It’s an honor,” said Beth Hagedorn, IKM-Manning’s Special Olympics coach.

IKM-Manning Special Olympics athletes, band members, cheerleaders and other students participated in a pep rally Nov. 21, during which Bryan Coffey, director of unified programs with Special Olympics Iowa, presented IKM-Manning with the award.

The award recognizes three aspects present at a school, according to the Special Olympics Iowa website: “unified sports,” or providing students both with and without disabilities the chance to play sports together; youth leadership and advocacy, which involves providing all students the opportunity to lead their peers in efforts to include everyone; and “whole-school engagement,” which involves providing opportunities for all students to participate in school-wide activities of any type.

“Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools … brings together students with and without intellectual disabilities through education, sports and youth leadership to provide them with the knowledge, attitudes and skills necessary to create and sustain school communities that promote acceptance and respect,” the website states.

IKM-Manning has a leadership team with students who have a Class A volunteer certification with the Special Olympics. High-school student members include Peyton Gross, Shyanne Sporrer, Payton Sporrer, Tiffani Beck, Megan Swanson, Neeka Jacobsen and Liam Carter.

This year, IKM-Manning Middle School added Special Olympics as well. Middle-school student members on the leadership team include Katherine Wooster, McKenna Benton and Olivia Bachman.

IKM-Manning’s Special Olympics athletes were recognized at the pep rally, including former athlete Eric Lage, Taylor Gross, Coby Fineran, Albert Holloway, Heaven Holloway, Ben Niles and Kaleb Borosko.

Although sports are at the root of the award — in addition to its other Special Olympics activities, IKM-Manning was selected for the last two years to host the Western Iowa Softball Skills competition, a qualifying event for the Special Olympics state softball tournament in Ankeny — it goes beyond athletics.

The Unified Champion School designation recognizes schools that are free from bullying and exclusion, combat stereotypes and negative attitudes, eliminate hurtful language, promote healthy interactions and value the engagement of all students, according to a description from Special Olympics Iowa.

These (schools) offer a unique combination that equip young people with tools and training to create sports and school climates of acceptance,” the description states. “These are school climates where students with disabilities feel welcome and are routinely included and valued in all activities, opportunities and functions.”