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Evie Sly presented with one of Iowa’s first two Unified Sports varsity letters during a virtual award ceremony.

Milwaukee had Laverne & Shirley. Hollywood had Thelma & Louise. Riverdale had Betty & Veronica. Bedrock had Betty & Wilma. And Des Moines has Joy Rector & Evie Sly as an entry on the list of great gal pal duos.

We’ve reported on them before, and their work that has literally taken them around the world in support support of the inclusion of all students in sports and activities.

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Joy Rector shows off her Unified Sports varsity letter, one of the first two of its kind in the state.

Now, we’re doing it again because the pair of poster girls for the Inclusion Revolution just achieved another distinction that came as a surprise to them but not to any of the other parties to yesterday’s special Zoom teleconference.

“Last spring you two were behind the bowling team that was our first ever unified sport,” explained Kelly Mackey, a special education teacher at Roosevelt High School where Joy and Evie are seniors. “Today you are both receiving the first varsity letters awarded in the state for unified sports.”

Unified sports pair students with and without intellectual disabilities for collaborative extracurricular activities that enrich both parties. Little could Joy and Evie have known when they met in 2012 at Merrill Middle School what a legacy their friendship would lead to by the time they finished high school.

Bryan Coffey is the Director of Unified Programs for Special Olympics Iowa. He collaborated with DMPS Activities Specialists Troy Owens and Tracy Johnson on development of lettering criteria and a pin for display on the school monogram.

“Thanks to you, Joy and Evie, unified sports are here to stay,” Coffey said. “Unified basketball made its debut this year and delivered hundreds of unified partner experiences.” Unified track was slated to get out of the blocks this year, too, until COVID-19 erased the spring sports season.

Besides the letters the girls received yesterday, Mackey also revealed that Roosevelt is under consideration for a distinction of its own.

“Special Olympics Iowa invited us to apply for recognition as a National Unified Champion School,” she said. “Bryan (Coffey) has helped us with the process and we’ll find out in August if we qualified according to their rubric of 10 criteria for inclusive school climate. If we make it the school will receive a banner to hang on permanent display and we’ll be the first one in the state of Iowa.”

By then Joy and Evie will be at different schools for the first time in eight years. Joy is eligible for the district’s 4+ program of special education services and Evie will be at the University of Tampa in Florida where she hopes to kick off a program in unified flag football. But they will remain inseparable, still sharing a bond attested to by their status as one of only 12 pairs of Special Olympics North America Ambassadors.

“You two are game-changers,” Coffey said while other attendees that included Joy and Evie’s parents, Roosevelt principal Kevin Biggs and other teachers and counselors who’ve worked with the duo sniffed in the background. Joy smiled even as she wiped away a tear or two herself.

Her letter in unified bowling was her first. Evie’s is in addition to ones she earned in cross-country.

“This is huge,” Evie said. “Awarding varsity letters makes unified sports more normal and more real. It gives other schools incentive to do the same. Thank you.”

But the rest of the thanks, and there were plenty to go around, were directed at a couple of young women who met as schoolgirls and came to personify the notion of win-win.

Photos of Joy and Evie Leaving for Global Youth Summit in Abu Dhabi
Joy and Evie: Ambassadors for Inclusion Head to Abu Dhabi

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