Unified Sports Rebuilds


Back L-R: Kasia Bilodeau, Adan Ballard (’23), Sarah McElree (’23), Bill Mercier, Nick Brant (’25), Jim Naylor Middle L-R: Megan Miller, Nathan Janeczek (’24), Riley Bascom (’24), Amelia Friz-Trilio (’24) Lower Front far right: Ada Lyman Photo credit: Kasia Bilodeau

Jacob Holmes, Writer

While this school year has marked a return to normalcy for many extracurriculars, this, unfortunately, isn’t the case when it comes to Bellows Free Academy’s Unified Sports program.

First, for the readers who are unaware, Unified Sports is essentially a collection of sports in which disabled students and non-disabled students participate on the same team.

“Unified Sports is a part of the Special Olympics. It has students with and without intellectual disabilities playing sports together,” Kasia Bilodeau, Special Educator and Assistant Coordinator of BFA’s Unified Sports team, said.

Unified Sports normally encompasses a wide range of activities, from more traditional sports like basketball to lesser-known recreations like snowshoeing.

“In a typical year, we start with soccer, then we do floorball, then we do snowshoeing. Then the only VPA-sanctioned sport in the state is basketball, so we play in the [Vermont Principals’ Association] league, and we also play in another Special Olympics league. And then we have Bocce, which we typically host at the complex where there [are] about 500 people from all over the state,” Bilodeau said.

Unified Sports took a big hit last year due to the pandemic, with teams being unable to compete with each other.

“Special Olympics, as a whole, put on no tournaments because a lot of our athletes are high risk,” Bilodeau said.

According to Bilodeau, the inability of teams to compete with each other, coupled with the pandemic making recruiting more difficult, caused a substantial decrease in student participation for the team. This problem was then exacerbated by the graduation of team partners.

“Our enrollment is really way down…and last year, we had 16 partners graduate from high school, so that’s a big hit for the team,”  Bilodeau said.

Currently, the Unified Sports team is winding down its fall activities and getting ready for wintertime fun.

“Right now we’re still getting together, playing soccer and playing bocce. And then, as soon as we have snow, we’ll start snowshoeing,” Bilodeau said.

For those who are interested in supporting the resurgence of the program, the team can be joined anytime with little effort.

“We’ll practice every Thursday at the complex from three to four. Anybody can join; they can reach out to Jim Naylor, Bill Mercier or [myself]…[There is] very little paperwork, and if you play a sport or another sport and you make it for certain seasons, then that’s fine. It’s very fluid,” Bilodeau said.