Written by Sarah O’Donnell
Every Monday and Thursday evening, more than forty Unified Sport athletes can be found scooping up grounders and hitting home runs for Unified Softball on the fields at Tom McCall Upper Elementary School. Unified Sports is a program through the Special Olympics Nonprofit Organization where athletes with and without intellectual disabilities become teammates and learn how to play certain sports. This year alone, Forest Grove has had more than two-hundred participants in soccer, basketball, and now softball.
This spring, teams will be playing an extra inning on Wednesday, April 27th at a Forest Grove Varsity Softball home game, playing a tournament from 10pm to 3pm on May 21st at Forest Grove High School, and select teams will be traveling to Bend for regionals on May 13th and 14th. Chris Alward, a Forest Grove High School student who has now been involved in Unified Track, Basketball, and Softball, promises to go “all out” in Wednesday’s extra inning, but athletes understand there’s more to learn than swinging for the fences and sliding home. As Nina Skeele, a junior at Forest Grove High School puts it, “I like to see everyone work hard, have fun, and be proud of themselves” and that’s exactly what these athletes do. Rain or shine, infield or outfield, pop fly or grounder, everyone is working hard in preparation for regionals where they will be defending the silver medals they earned last year.
Through nine years of coaching and coordinating Unified Sports events, Jill Hertel, a special education teacher at Forest Grove High School, has learned that “Anyone can participate in sports. People always step up: students, community members, everyone. It’s been incredible.” For those who want to get involved in upcoming Unified Sports, you can contact Jill Hertel here or check out the Unified Sports Facebook Page.