Unified Sports


Emma Stark, Staff Writer

Unified Sports is a joint program between Special Olympics N.J. and the N.J. Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA), bringing students with and without disabilities together through athletic competition in an attempt to educate students about social inclusion. Members of the program face physical and mental challenges in a variety of competitive and non-competitive environments. Unified Sports is just like other varsity sports with minor modifications to rules. Teams are designed to create a level playing field of ability, keeping games challenging and exciting. By following the Unified motto “practice together-play together,” the team spreads inclusiveness and friendship throughout the school.

With two athletic events per week, Unified Sports consists of three seasons: soccer in the fall, basketball in the winter, and track in the spring, along with two Unified Sports state cup tournaments. The team has a handful of students who play for the New York Red Bulls MLS Unified Team. These students travel up and down the east coast playing various teams who later are represented at the MLS Allstar Game. Outside of competing against other schools, the team is involved in programs, including the Week of Respect, leadership summits, and statewide leadership programs like the N.J. State Youth Leadership team. Both Mendham and West Morris Central were named a National Banner Unified Champion School, being one of 155 schools in the nation to hold this title.

Mr. Milner, the head of Mendham’s Unified team, has run the program since it began four years ago. He first learned about Unified from his college roommate at Rowan University. Before he knew it, he found himself making some of the best memories of his life in just three short years. In an interview with Mr. Milner, he describes the three years he spent with Unified as such:

I not only met some of the best people in my life but also came to appreciate just how big of an impact the program made on me. While I always thought of myself as inclusive and accepting, it wasn’t until I was playing competitively with Special Olympics that I came to see my team for the group of unique and amazing individuals that they were.

— Mr. Milner

Mr. Milner repeatedly mentioned one of the key principles of the program: inclusion. He offers a new perspective of the word, something he learned throughout his experiences with Unified. “Inclusivity is more than just not excluding – it is a conscious choice to see someone else as an individual with unique talents and respect them for it.” The lessons, new perspectives, and passion that Mr. Milner gained from his Unified teams sparked his interest to lead the team at Mendham. He hopes that students who join Unified will use it as an opportunity to see for themselves how much it can change their perspective. 

Gillian Jasper, a senior at Mendham, has been a member of Unified since her freshman year. She explains that her experiences with Unified are “always a great and fun time, from the bus rides to the benches!” Her favorite memories which include, a soccer game against Central in the fall and a staff vs. students basketball game in the winter will forever be a part of her life even once she graduates. 

Although Unified Sports began just four years ago at Mendham, the message and opportunities that the program shares with students have created an everlasting impact on the Mendham High School community, just as it did in Mr. Milner’s life. He has created more than just a team, but a family that makes all the hard work worthwhile.