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Unified Beyond the Field

Seeing your child on the field, court, or even in the pool is something most parents take pride in. It’s exciting to see our athletes play, whether it’s a toddler who doesn’t know what’s going on and is just running around on the court or the high school varsity athlete who has trained for the final game. Whether they win or lose, the support and cheers from family members and friends will stick with them for a lifetime. 

On the other hand, athletes find a sense of community when they play sports, from their coach patting them on the back after the game to their teammates who turn into their closest friends. Children who play sports learn life skills, get consistent exercise, and build relationships they will never forget. 

But for children with intellectual disabilities, the dream of becoming an athlete let alone receiving a letter, seemed far-fetched for a long time. These students have had coaches who aren’t properly trained, and they have often found themselves benched, cut from teams, or consistently picked last in gym class. For many, the introduction to sports was very negative. Yet, the narrative of neurodivergent athletes is changing because of organizations like Special Olympics Colorado. This program intentionally promotes meaningful social inclusion by bringing together students with and without intellectual disabilities.

“Parents and athletes have been told what they can’t do,” says Megan Scremin, the CEO of Special Olympics Colorado. “We want them to come to Special Olympics and introduce them to a world where they see all of the things that they can currently do and will be able to do.” 

This nonprofit has over 20,500 athletes participating in 21 different sports locally and internationally. They continue to break down barriers through inclusive programs that start as early as age two and continue for a lifetime. Especially for young athletes, the organization gets to welcome them into the world of sports in a positive and nurturing setting. 

One key initiative is the Special Olympics Unified Champion School program for students in Pre-K through university. The intention is to create an accepting school environment. For example, at the high school level, just as there is a JV and varsity team, there is a unified team that is competing in their sport.

“They wear the same uniforms, they play a competitive schedule, they have fans in the stands, and they letter in their sport. They are getting that same school sports experience that every other student is able to get,” Scremin says, and explains the nonprofit is in about 650 schools in Colorado. 

Every day, Special Olympics Colorado is positively impacting the lives of neurodivergent and neurotypical students, athletes, and adults. Nathan Abeyta-Duran, who is just eight years old and neurodivergent, has participated in several different sports, including soccer, football, swimming, and skiing. Besides playing in these sports, he has also made many new friends. Nathan says if you want to play a sport, to not be scared because everyone is so nice.

Just like anything, not every sport calls to every athlete. New athletes have a chance to explore a sport in a non-threatening environment without any commitment through the Learn to Play A Sport event. These types of clinics are a great way to test the waters and see if it will be a good fit. 

The programs Special Olympics Colorado offers, not only impact these athletes socially and physically, but they are also learning life skills that are carried into their adulthood.  

“Nationally, about 15 percent of people with intellectual disabilities are employed; compare that to 64 percent of our Special Olympics athletes who are employed,” Scremin says. “We’re trying to impact the entire athlete, their entire family, and the community.”

Whether your kiddo is excited to get on the field or is feeling shy, there is a team waiting for them. To learn more about the programs Special Olympics offers, head to their website at or bring the family to see a game. 

“There is a place for you at Special Olympics. If you just want to come witness a basketball game or a unified event within your school or community, all you have to do is show up. We guarantee you a day of joy and inclusion,” Scremin explains.

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