Maple Leafs Unified

2014 BFA Unified Sports

2014 BFA Unified Sports

Ashley LaBelle, Mercury Writer

One in 68.

One in 700.

In the United States, one in 68 children are born with autism, meaning that the average American will meet 1,176 people with autism in his or her lifetime.  

One in nearly 700 children born in the United States has Down Syndrome, which means that the average American will meet 114 people diagnosed with Down Syndrome during their lifetime.

You may not remember meeting all of these people in your life. However, for many involved in the Special Olympics or the Unified Sports programs, they could never forget these special people.

BFA has taken initiative and is one of 18 high schools in Vermont to have a Unified Sports team.

But the program doesn’t just stop there; Saint Albans is also home to the Franklin County Maple Leafs. This fairly new Special Olympics program is growing fast!

The Maple Leafs differ from the Unified Sports team at BFA, because the Maple Leafs cater to the entire Saint Albans community, not just high school students.

The Maple Leafs team has a wide variety of ages as well, with people ranging from elementary school age to retirement home residents. Many of BFA’s athletes transfer over to the Maple Leafs program after they have graduated.

The Unified Sports team makes transferring over to the Maple Leafs Special Olympics team simple due to the fact that the Unified Team has coaches and supporters who are involved with both programs.

Two athletes agreed to be interviewed for this article. They will be identified as ‘Jerry’ and ‘Bob’ due to confidentiality.

“Maybe I’ll play till I’m 55, then I’ll retire,” ‘Jerry’ said.

This type of commitment is not uncommon.

“We get part of the student body that needs to do their ten hours of community service, and they go ‘well I’ll just do them through Unified Sports. It’s easy, we’ll just go and play around and stuff’, but we’ve had students that actually change their careers by getting to know more about the athletes and special needs,” Bill Mericer, coach for both Unified Sports and the Maple Leafs, said.

According to, about 50 percent of all athletes participating in Special Olympic programs report that their self esteem rose.

“I had a kid from Milton in the Maple Leafs. He was 10, and his mom told me that he wouldn’t participate in anything. And now that he’s participating in our program, it’s a whole different thing. He’s participating in classes, he’s interacting with the student population… it makes them feel like they’re like everybody else, instead of thinking that they’re different” Mercier said.

60-100 percent of athletes (depending on the country and/or programs offered) participate in social events outside of their Special Olympics communities (

Self-esteem is essential for socializing. “I went to the field days… The Kingman Street car show, I hung out with my friends all summer,” ‘Jerry’ said.

Unified Sports also helps build transferable skills that will be helpful for the athletes later in life. “Social skills is a big one,” Mercier said.

Some of BFA’s athletes are able to move on after high school and do big things, such as working to create a band. Others go to college.

“I’m going to go to UVM and think about some things. I don’t know what types of classes I’m going to take, and I’ll ask them about sports. If they have some then great; if they don’t then fine, I’ll still do the Maple Leafs,” ‘Bob’ said.

When asked how Unified Sports had impacted his life, ‘Bob’ said, “I’m a lot more focused.”

‘Jerry’ replied with “Unified Sports helped me gain independent skills.”

The Community Integration Program (CIP), works hard to cater to the needs of each special needs individual. If a student is not interested in sports, the faculty in the CIP will work hard to find something that the individual is interested in.

The CIP helps students get jobs, possibly go to college, and a big factor behind how the Unified Sports program at BFA has progressed to the large scope it has attained. Unified Sports has also helped BFA progress as a more integrated community.

“There’s still a lot of bigotry about it, but stuff like Unified Sports where people get more educated about it, and when these students have children, they will teach their children to be more inclusive, which will be more fun; it’s already fun,” Mercier said.

Each Unified Sports athlete is paired with a partner who helps aid them in their athletic journey. “Unified Sports joins people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team.” (

Interested in becoming a partner? Join the Unified Sports team for practices every Thursday after school! Location can be found in the BFA announcements.

“We just have some fun; that’s all that matters” ‘Bob’ said.