A recent announcement from the U.S. Department of Education has schools across the nation scrambling to accommodate more students with disabilities in organized, adapted sports.
The new initiative, which resembles the 1972 federal education amendment Title IX mandate that expanded athletic opportunities for women, requires schools to make “reasonable modifications” to create parallel sporting programs for disabled students. While the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act has required schools to accommodate all students, regardless of ability, since 1990, the new mandate expands educational needs to include athletics.
In late 1992, the formation of the Minnesota Adapted Athletics Association put the state ahead of the game, establishing Minnesota as the first state to incorporate adapted sports into the state high school league. Since then, adapted floor hockey, bowling, softball and soccer is available for students at various schools throughout Minnesota.
Winona Area Public Schools Superintendent Scott Hannon, who has been with the district for 40 years, said he has witnessed the progressive steps to include all students in extracurricular activities, and is in full support of the new mandate.
“All of our kids deserve this opportunity, and I think we have been a leader,” Hannon said. Since the 1999-2000 school year, Winona Senior High School (WSHS) has provided adapted floor hockey for seventh-through-12th-grade students. “This team has given these kids a wonderful opportunity to participate in a sport that is their own and is competitive,” said Hannon.
With the country’s obesity rate on a rapid incline, health researchers have said it is more important than ever to maintain an active lifestyle. The Inclusive Fitness Coalition (IFC), a program funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, estimates that nearly 50 million people in the United States are living with some type of disability. With some disabilities, staying active can be difficult.
“We want these kids to be active and involved,” Hannon said. “In the special needs population, there are some kids that have difficulties with physical movements. If they can be a part of something, like adapted floor hockey, where they are engaging in movement and being active, that’s great.”
In a press release from the IFC, Beverly Vaughn, Executive Director of the American Association of Adapted Sports, said implementing adapted sports in schools is not only possible, but it will “enrich the overall athletic experience for all students.”
While WSHS currently has one adapted sport, Hannon said he would not deny the request to add more. High school athletic director Brad Berzinski added that the success of the adapted floor hockey team is only the beginning.
“In regard to the [new mandate], we hope to provide the support these kids need in any way that gets them involved,” Berzinski said. “If we can provide these students with motivation or give them a nudge in the right direction, then I think we have done our job. We want to give all these kids every opportunity.”