Unified Champion Schools Stories

Student Athlete Coordinates Inclusive Practices with Her Team


 

Meet Klaire Steffens, a sophomore student athlete at the University of Chicago.

She is majoring in Public Policy and minoring in Education and Society. Apart from being a member of the basketball team, she is on the executive board of the Women’s Athletic Association (WAA), co-president of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee, and a member of the Trott Business Program.

Part of her role as WAA Promotions Coordinator is to organize inclusive practices with Chicago’s Special Olympics Illinois (SOILL) teams. Her teammate and co-president of the WAA brought inclusive practices to UChicago because of the belief that is shared with them all that, “regardless of a so-called ‘disability,’ these athletes deserve to play and practice on a stage as large as all of the hard work which they have put into their sport,” per Miranda Burt (Class of 2020).

The inclusive practices bring in local Special Olympics Illinois teams to practice alongside varsity athletes on campus. This past year they had soccer, flag football, and basketball practices.

In addition to the inclusive practices, WAA hosts an annual fundraising event, Slam Dunk, during the Women’s and Men’s basketball games to raise money for these teams. They raise funds through raffle ticket sales leading up to and during the games. Klaire is so moved when she is playing on the court and looks up to the stands to see some of the Special Olympics athletes that have practiced with the team. They come to Slam Dunk to support their teams as well as play in a basketball game with their athletes during halftime.

Beyond the inclusive practices, WAA usually hosts a Special Olympics Field Day in the spring. This is an incredibly fun day where all of these Special Olympics Illinois teams come together with the University of Chicago male and female athletes to play soccer, basketball, flag football, track, and tennis.

As a student-athlete, Klaire does undergo the typical stress of tests, assignments, and managing a 20+ hour weekly commitment to basketball. However, her involvement with Special Olympics always brings her and other athletes joy.

The SOILL athletes always arrive on campus with contagious smiles beaming across their faces. Whenever the team sets foot on the field or court, the Special Olympics Illinois athletes manage to keep those smiles while also turning their competitive juices on. During the practices Klaire forgets about whatever assignments she may have because she is all consumed in the fun and competitive atmosphere. Perhaps the most meaningful take away that she has had is the relationships that she has built by practicing with the same teams consistently throughout the year in a variety of sports. Some of her other fellow student athletes and Klaire are on a first-name basis with many of the SOILL athletes. Whenever they call out Klaire and her teammates names or come give them high fives, their hearts warm.

Many UChicago athletes have told Klaire that SOILL athletes make their day. They are given the privilege to deliver checks from the Slam Dunk money to some of the teams that practice with them. Seeing how hard the SOILL athletes work, their own practice facilities, and how meaningful the funds are is eye opening. They are grateful that they are able to help provide the SOILL athletes the gear that they deserve and experience practices with them.

The Special Olympic athletes’ passion for their sport radiates throughout the inclusive practices. Their passion reminds the UChicago team of the pure love and joy that comes from one’s sport.


Unified Champions Schools Impact


 

Listen to this interview on how impactful Unified Champion Schools has been for these two students, Danny & Charlotte.


My Son Ooozes with Confidence


 

Before a baby arrives, parents talk about endless possibilities.  They plan ahead and they make sure everything is perfect.  Parents dream about a bright and beautiful path for their child, and that path is paved by their own experiences because, naturally, to that point, that’s all they know.

The day arrives that they’ve been waiting for and a child with intellectual disabilities is placed in their arms. They are not sure at first how to communicate their fears and the myriad of other thoughts and emotions that come and go.  Well-intentioned friends and family have a hard time communicating, as well, which often makes things more difficult.  Doctor visits also are discouraging as the general focus is defining what this child cannot do, as opposed to what it can.       

Brook and Dave, Jack Klawitter’s parents, made an early decision to blaze a trail down a new path and to not be angry or frustrated but, instead, to celebrate their child.  They received a recommendation from Jack’s physical therapist to try Special Olympics Illinois.

Later, they headed to Normal, Illinois, to have Jack participate for the first time in the Young Athletes program.  Anticipation of that new experience came with fear and a roller coaster of emotions for Brook.  She noted that she didn’t know if being involved in Special Olympics would come with a stigma.  Instead, the experience became the first day of Jack’s life when Brook and Dave enjoyed a sense of calm and community.  “It was the first day we got to celebrate Jack openly.  Celebrate him.  It wasn’t to compare.  We just got to celebrate,” notes Brook.  “In that day and in that moment. It was just about being somewhere that we were comfortable.  Not measured. Not evaluated. And we got to be. People helped us celebrate what Jack could do, not what he couldn’t do.”

Brook recalls that the children participating in Special Olympics that day, and every day forward, whether with disabilities or not, are ALL learning to run, jump, kick, balance, and more, at the same time.  “Because he participated in Young Athletes, he could participate in the exact same way!  He didn’t know the impact he was having,” she says. 

That impact can be seen through Jack’s two sisters, Sophia and Marion, who, Brook says, “treat everyone like they are individuals and are incredibly supportive.”  

Jack’s involvement in Special Olympics Illinois also allowed the Klawitter family to become part of something bigger that what they had known before, and they realized that they were supported by an entire village of individuals who genuinely care for both Jack and their whole family. 

As is a core goal for Special Olympics Illinois, the experience and environmental gains go far beyond the fields of play.  In Jack’s case, and in the case of thousands of other athletes, Special Olympics helps to develop lifetime skills for all chapters of that person’s life.  Brook fondly notes, “Young athletes set him up for PE and recess.  In Kindergarten, it is PE and recess when they set up social skills.  (Jack) learned those skills and practiced them on a regular basis.”  She continues with a specific example from their local park district t-ball league.  “He was happy and confident participating with all typically developing peers and you realize then, in those times, when he is doing this confidently, that he is starting to change minds and attitudes.  These are the people that need to see beyond the almond shaped eyes.”

When listening to Brook speak, you hear the words of a proud mother boasting about her son.  This is the same mother that looked at her newborn with Downs Syndrome and thought about that path of success that she and Dave had mentally laid out prior to his birth.  In many ways, that path is more firm and straight that many parents in their shoes could imagine.  “Jack oozes with confidence,” Brook says.  “He sees every opportunity. Every moment, as a new opportunity for success.  Because he has a thousand opportunities instead of ten, the 20 times when he HAS failed, he shrugs it off and tries again.” 

When asked to summarize a few keys of what Special Olympics provides for Jack, Brook notes, “(Special Olympics Illinois gives the) right support and process in place for him.  He is absolutely going to be successful in that environment, and when he is successful, he grows confidence and believes he can do the next thing.  He sees everything as a chance to succeed.”

Jack’s successes in just 14 years of life so far range from competitions won to hugs and high-fives from peers everywhere.  Before Jack’s birth, Brook and Dave dreamed about a bright and beautiful future for their child.  They just had no idea that the bright would come in the form of bronze, silver, and gold, and the beautiful would come from the smiles on the faces of everyone who calls Jack Klawitter a friend. From your friends at Special Olympics Illinois, Happy Birthday Jack!   


Meet the 2019 Unified Coaster Challenge Ambassadors:


 

Meet the 2019 Unified Coaster Challenge Ambassadors

Special Olympics Illinois athlete and Unified Partner, Anna Scholler and Sydney Baumstark are the 2019 Unified Coaster Challenge ambassadors. Anna and Sydney, both Libertyville residents, became friends through Special Olympics. They play on a Unified soccer team called the Libertyville Storm. The girls share a love for soccer and roller coasters.

Anna has been a Special Olympics athlete for several years. She competes in basketball, bocce, bowling, floor hockey, track & field, and soccer. Anna just recently graduated from Libertyville High School.

Sydney is a sophomore at Libertyville high school. She believes being involved in Special Olympics as a Unified Partner is very important. Being a Unified Partner, Sydney has learned the power and positivity of sport.

“We are more similar then we are different, regardless of our ability level. We all have the opportunity to succeed through sport,” said Sydney.

Anna and Sydney are true thrill-seekers In their free time, you will find Anna and Sydney on their favorite roller coasters, the Raging Bull and X-Flight. Anna and Sydney are honored and excited to be the Unified Coaster Challenge Ambassadors this year.


2019 Special Olympics Unified Sports MLS All-Star Match


 

MLS, ESPN and Special Olympics have teamed up to promote an environment of social inclusion by uniting people with and without intellectual disabilities through Special Olympics Unified Sports®.

The cornerstone to the collaboration is the Unified Sports Soccer Exchange Program. Unified soccer teams travel to MLS markets to compete in exhibition matches scheduled in conjunction with MLS club matches. MLS Clubs provide unique experiences such as signing days, jersey unveils, buddy programs with MLS first-team players, and gameday recognition. Unified teams represent their home MLS Club, outfitted in authentic uniforms provided by Adidas.

The team will depart on Friday, August 3, for a Unified Match in Houston Texas. The initial match will be held at Houston Sports Park – 12131 Kirby Dr, Houston TX 77045. The team will play 2 – 45 min half match vs. the Unified Houston Dynamos.

Team Bios

Athletes:

Unified Partners:

The Special Olympics Unified Sports All-Star Soccer Experience presented by MLS WORKS & ESPN is an opportunity to showcase the athletes and partners who participate in the Unified Exchange program in local communities throughout the United States and Canada. The 2019 Unified All-Star Experience will take place from Monday, July 29 to Thursday, August 1 in Orlando, Florida as part of 2019 MLS All-Star Week festivities.Two athletes from Illinois will be participating, Allison Schaar and Mike Brennan.