From May 14 to 17, over 2000 high school student-athletes from around the world will gather in Toronto for the 2019 Special Olympics Ontario Invitational Youth Games - the first international sports competition for high school aged students with and without intellectual disabilities.
Athletes will have the opportunity to compete in one of the five sports: athletics, basketball, bocce, floor hockey, and soccer.
Alberta is proudly sending students from three Unified high schools to take part in the Games including the Bert Church High School Chargers who won the Unified bocce event last year.
“It was an honour to represent Alberta on a national scale last year, winning was icing on the cake,” said Ian Ferguson, the coach of the Unified team at BCHS. “We are equally honoured to get the opportunity to do so again on an international stage, and I know that this team will do so with the same level of sportsmanship and character as last year. If we do that, I will be proud of wherever we end up in the standings.”
This year’s team includes returning members Ami Schaan (athlete), Emma Rockwell (partner); new members Jayden Riley (athlete), and Colter Cannon (partner); along with coaches Ian Ferguson and Cynthia Dahl.
Team training is in full force as BCHS has been practicing with the indoor bocce balls that Special Olympics Ontario uses, which is something they had to adapt to quickly at the last Games.
Being part of history and the first international competition for high school aged students with and without intellectual disabilities is something Ian and the team are ecstatic about.
Not only will they represent their high school, city, and province, but also their country.
Unified sports quickly worked its way into our culture at Bert Church, and we as Chargers take pride in our program. To have had the opportunity to represent our province last year and country this year, shows us that we are doing something right. Personally, Unified is the most rewarding coaching that I have ever done, and I consider myself very fortunate to have had the opportunity to coach at the Youth Games, and to learn from other coaches. – Ian
“[It’s] a great opportunity and honour to be a part of it,” said Emma.
The Chargers are also looking forward to visiting Toronto, meeting new people, and possibly defending their title.
Comradery is one of the defining features of the team and when asked what their goals were entering the event the team had some unified goals:
“To do our best,” Jayden said.
“To win,” Colter said.
It is an experienced group and for Ian his advice is always for the players to enjoy themselves and take it all in.
Unified Sports was introduced in Alberta in 2015 in partnership with the Alberta Schools’ Athletic Association (ASAA).
The number of athletes and partners continues to grow and Bert Church has championed the program since its inception four years ago.
On April 9 they hosted their first Unified Jamboree with over 200 students from nine high schools playing basketball, bean-bag toss, and bocce.
“Hosting the Jamboree was amazing,” Ian said, “For our students to get to welcome teams from nine schools, including three that were new to Unified, [it] was a truly memorable day.”
Getting To Know Unified Athlete Ami Schaan
For the past four years, BCHS athlete Ami Schaan has participated in Unified Sports.
She is set to become the first athlete to graduate having played Unified Sports for her entire high school career.
Ami has played every sport offered at BCHS Unified including basketball, bean-bag toss, and bocce.
“[Ami is] really sweet, loves meeting new people, and wants everyone around her to have fun,” Emma said.
“Feels good,” Ami said on what being a role model means to her. “Everyone should join and have fun like I did.”
During her time as a Charger she has played in many tournaments, but her favourite moments include the Final Leg Torch Run for the 2019 Special Olympics Alberta Winter Games and attending the 2018 SOO – Youth Games.
She plans to continue playing sports in her future and when asked about what it has meant to be a Charger she stated, “It’s good to be part of the team.”
Looking ahead, Ian plans to continue to host tournaments, get more schools involved, and potentially start a Unified league sometime in the future.
For more information on Unified events or if your school is interested in hosting a Unified event, check out our Unified Sports page.
Also, be sure to follow our coverage of the Youth Games on social media and check out the Special Olympics Ontario Invitational Youth Games on Twitter to stay up-to-date on all the action from Toronto.