Unified Soccer team returns for second year
The Unified Soccer program at Quincy High School bridges the gap between students with intellectual disabilities and students willing to broaden their horizons and move, temporarily, out of their comfort zone.
The truth is, both groups benefit more than they can imagine.
Unified Soccer opened its season April 16 in Moses Lake. Part of the Special Olympics of Washington, the North Central Washington Unified Soccer League consists of nine teams from throughout the Columbia Basin and Yakima area.
The Quincy team is led by head coach Therese Sawyer and assistant coaches Alex Bushy and Dayana Ruiz, all of whom coached last year. This is the second season for the Quincy Jacks Unified soccer team and coach Sawyer hopes to expand with a Unified basketball team this fall.
Unified sports include students with disabilities, or “athletes”, teamed with student without disabilities, or “partners.” Partners range from students with no athletic experience to varsity athletes. The partners are player/coaches, mentors, and fellow participants looking for a fun experience. Adriana Spindola and Marlen Bermudas are returning for their second season as partners.
“Athletes plus their partners are the ‘unified’ part of Unified sports,” Sawyer explained.
Athlete Selma Vasquez is returning for her second season. Although she enjoys all aspects of the game – running, defense and scoring – there’s something more she’s getting out the team. “Having fun is the best part,” Vasquez said.
Also returning is teammate Jasmine “Jazz” Estrada. Jazz lights up a room with her smile. At the mere mention of her name, people who know her begin smiling also. Sawyer said Jazz’s family has attended every game.
Quincy played two matches last Saturday. The team lost its first match against Eastmont, 6-0. Against Moses Lake in the team’s second matchup, athlete Roberto Mireles scored both of Quincy’s goals, the first on an assist from partner Marlen Bermuda. Mireles stole the ball for the second score, unassisted. Quincy came up just a little short, losing 3-2.
Of course, the idea behind Unified sports isn’t winning or losing. It’s to allow Unified athletes the opportunity to participate in a school-sponsored sport. Unified athletes enjoy all the things other athletes enjoy, wearing uniforms on game day, being recognized at pep rallies and being able to represent their school.
The Unified teams will compete in five jamboree-style events, held on Saturdays, this season, ending with the Central Washington regional matches on May 14. The team’s next match is Saturday in Grandview. Quincy will host its home event May 7 at the high school field. Coach Sawyer is hoping for a big turnout, with support from the band, school and community.
Coach Bushy explained that matches are played on a modified field. “Across the field, so several matches can be played at one time,” he said.
Matches consist of two 15-minute halves with a five-minute intermission. Teams will usually play several matches. The Quincy team has two managers, McKenzie Jimmerson and Courtney Wilson, but it also relies on volunteers to serve as referees and as staff to help keep events organized.
To enhance social interactions and to promote team building, the team has decided to go to prom together on Saturday. Quincy ASB donated the tickets and Time Out Pizza is providing dinner.
“These kids always have a good time,” Sawyer said. “It should be an experience.”
Sawyer sees Unified Sports as a way for these athletes to meaningfully participate in the high school experience and to build mutually rewarding relationships with students without disabilities. The program helps close the gap between groups of students who may not have the opportunity to interact otherwise.
“We want these athletes to shine,” she said.
— By Dennis Roberts, QVPR contributor