photo by Jocelyn Rock
Unified athletes at Millard West recently began practices for the first Unified Swimming season. The team, which was founded by senior and head coach Rebekah Hitz, practices each Monday and Wednesday from 3:30 to 4:30.
The swimmers were divided into two groups. The Millard West Green relay team includes Pryce Dornbier, Nathalie Olrrich, Caitlin Kaup and Mckenzie Edwards. The second team, Millard West Black, includes Natalie Noble, Zack Merkley, Jerryd Busch and Madison Olson.
“Millard West is the only Millard school that has a unified swimming team, and yes, it will continue in the future,” Senior and Assistant Coach Carly Renken said. “There is no reason for it not to continue; we are living in a unified movement, and it creates opportunity for people with intellectual disabilities and their general education peers.”
Hitz decided to start the team during a conversation with Dornbier, who had brought up the idea of a Unified Swim Team. They had week and a half to put together a team and finish registration. Despite the ups and downs the team has faced, Hitz is confident in the swimmers.
The goal of the team is to provide a place for the unified athletes to learn more about swimming and how to be a part of a team.
“We are giving opportunities for people of all abilities to compete in different sports and activities,” Unified Swimming sponsor Ali Bragg said. “With it being the first season we just want to represent Millard West Unified Sports.”
Millard West recently received a Unified Champion School Banner for their success with unified sports and activities. Despite already being recognized as a school with an inclusive and accepting environment, students and staff are continuing to expand the wide range of activities and work on including as many people as possible.
“Unified Sports is important to Millard West and their community because it gives opportunity and access for people with different abilities,” Renken said. “Everybody expresses themselves differently, and swimming may be it for some people. Students with intellectual and physical disabilities should be able to have all of the same opportunities as general education students.”
Hitz and the rest of the team had one goal: to create more opportunity for students of all abilities.
“Unified sports are important because everyone, no matter the ability level, deserves the same opportunities,” Hitz said. “Having unified activities will allow more people meet everyone in the school, not Just people if the same ability level. Soon enough we won’t even need to make a big deal about inclusion because it will be the norm. The day that happens will be the best day ever.”
The Special Olympics Regional Swim Meet is on March 23rd at UNO. If either of the two Wildcat relay teams place 1st, 2nd, or 3rd, then they will advance to the Special Olympics State Summer Games on May 23rd.
This story was originally published on The Catalyst on April 8, 2019.