Cape High’s commitment to inclusion is being noticed.
For creating a positive climate that fosters participation of all students, particularly those with intellectual disabilities, Cape High was named a Special Olympics Delaware Unified Champion Banner School for 2018-19.
Physical education teacher Jennifer Hagan said the award is not only based on unified sports teams, which unite students with disabilities and peer mentors to play flag football, basketball, and track and field.
“We also offer a mentor program, clubs and other organizations in which students are mainstreamed and given leadership opportunities,” Hagan said.
The school will hold special spirit-week activities Oct. 14-18 to highlight the acceptance of all students, Hagan said. Sussex Consortium students will serve as honorary captains at football, volleyball, field hockey and soccer games, and all students are invited to wear themed clothing to showcase their individuality and differences.
Hagan, a field hockey and lacrosse official, said she was at an officials’ meeting several years ago when she first heard attendees talking about unified sports teams.
“I officiate in the fall and spring, so I figured I could coach winter sports,” Hagan said. “I pitched the idea to Athletic Director Bob Cilento, and he gave the OK.”
Spots on Cape High’s unified teams are offered to students of all abilities. Typically, Hagan said, rosters include equal numbers of students with intellectual abilities and regular peer mentors. Cape High’s teams play other unified teams from Dover, Caesar Rodney, Indian River and Milford high schools.
“It’s a competitive setting,” Hagan said. “I expect them to run plays like my regular teams. The only difference is how I phrase things to explain drills.”
Hagan said last year, the boys basketball team stayed after school to scrimmage the unified team.
“The way those boys accepted them was amazing,” she said. “It just made my heart beat. Afterward, they would come back and check on us. We became a family of basketball players.”
Cape High Principal Nikki Miller said she was proud of the unified teams.
“The smiles on the faces of the players, coaches and spectators are evidence that we are a better school because of unified sports,” Miller said.
Hagan said her experience coaching students with disabilities has highlighted her 25 years as a teacher.
“Once I worked with that population, I was hooked ever since,” she said. “There’s something about them that makes you think, what else can I do?”