Walk into most any high school gymnasium and you will see banners, hanging from the walls or high up in the rafters, celebrating athletic accomplishments: conference titles or state qualifiers or state champions.

Roosevelt High School was presented with a banner today that arguably could hang a little higher than the rest. It doesn’t celebrate the success of a single team or an individual athlete but, in many ways, marks a victory for the entire school.

Representatives from Special Olympics Iowa dropped by Roosevelt for a brief ceremony to present the school with its National Unified Champion School banner.

“We at Special Olympics Iowa have greatly enjoyed ‘sitting on the sidelines’ watching the Unified youth leaders at Roosevelt High School make their school community more accepting and inclusive of students of ALL ABILITIES,” said Bryan Coffey, director of Unified programs at Special Olympics Iowa. “These youth leaders have done this with great passion, and they have been fully supported by their teachers and administration through this process. I can’t wait to continue following to the many more inclusive friendships to come!”

Over the years we have shared several stories about the partnership between Des Moines Public Schools and Special Olympics, and the work throughout the school district to promote the “inclusion revolution” for students of all abilities to play and compete together.

Roosevelt has been at the forefront of the effort, in part due to the work of two recent graduates: Joy Rector and Evy Sly. This dynamic duo has done everything from serve as international ambassadors for Special Olympics to becoming the first students in Iowa to earn varsity letters for unified sports. Their efforts contribute to Roosevelt being recognized by ESPN as one of the top 5 Unified Champion Schools in the nation.

Joy and Evy, who were on hand at the banner presentation, may have graduated but what they began is growing stronger at the school as more and more students continue to be involved. Brooks Murphy and Edin Bakalbasic, two juniors at Roosevelt, spoke about the importance of the recognition and building on the work to be inclusive of every student.

Becoming a National Unified Champion School doesn’t just involve filling out a form and receiving a banner. Months and years of work go into demonstrating that a school is meeting the standards of being truly inclusive.

As the Special Olympics note: “A Special Olympics Unified Champion School has an inclusive school climate and exudes a sense of collaboration, engagement and respect for all members of the student body and staff. A Unified Champion School receiving national banner recognition is one that has demonstrated commitment to inclusion by meeting 10 national standards of excellence.

Over the past ten months, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, sports at all levels have been disrupted. At DMPS, the periods of virtual learning brought practices and competitions to a halt. As the high school winter sports season starts to resume, a little ceremony in the Roosevelt library was a reminder of the unifying power of sport, no matter what level it is competed at, and an opportunity to look forward to more brighter days ahead.

Photos from Roosevelt’s Unified Champion School Banner Presentation
Roosevelt Presented with National Unified Champion School Banner

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