Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) was honored for its efforts to provide inclusive sports and activities for students with and without disabilities on Thursday, Nov. 2, at Francis (“Sancy”) Pachico Gymnasium.
The ceremony took place at halftime during a unified basketball game between MVRHS and Falmouth High School.
MVRHS received a national banner by meeting 10 national standards of excellence in the areas of inclusion, advocacy, and respect. MVRHS is also a Special Olympics Unified Champion School.
“This is the highest level of achievement within the unified champion school movement,” Denise Larrabee, manager of inclusive schools program for Special Olympics Massachusetts, said about the national banner recognition.
MVRHS began its unified basketball program in 2018, which later expanded to track and field and bocci. The school received a Special Olympics banner the following year. But unified sports isn’t the only reason the high school was recognized by the Special Olympics. Larrabee said other factors included inclusive youth leadership and “whole school engagement.”
“You have built a solid foundation, and have created this environment here at Martha’s Vineyard,” Larrabee said, thanking MVRHS Principal Sara Dingledy, those running the unified sports program, and the students. “It’s for all of you here today, the whole school. You epitomize what it means to play and live unified.”
According to Larrabee, MVRHS is now one of 22 schools in Massachusetts and one of 205 schools nationally to have this distinction.
After the applause subsided, Dingledy commended the unified sports program players and organizers.
“Thank you for inspiring us every day,” she said. “We’re super-proud of this.”
One of the MVRHS unified basketball players, Kayden Devine, said, “Thank you.”
MVRHS physical education teacher and unified sports program liaison Ryan Kent expressed excitement over the recognition.
“The kids have put in a ton of hard work,” Kent told The Times. “The school has built a big community around this, and there’s been a ton of effort from everyone involved, so it’s really nice for them to get that recognition.”
Kent said students with and without cognitive and physical “diffabilities” came together for the program, including students from the post–high school Voyagers program, which teaches young adults with special needs skills to live more independently.
MVRHS unified basketball Head Coach Kevin McGrath said it was a proud moment to be awarded the national banner.
“We’re just proud to represent the spirit of unified sports by achieving this great honor by all of the programs we have at this school that are centered around inclusion,” he said, also expressing thanks to MVRHS’ partners at Falmouth High School.
Although Falmouth took the win, McGrath said what mattered was that the students had fun and the Island community showed support for the unified team. That support could be seen with cheers by students when a player scored points, while others waved signs in support of their peers, and the family members who showed up for their children.
“It’s all about sportsmanship and having fun, and I think today was a great example of that,” McGrath said. “We didn’t win, but we played hard and we tried our best, and I think everyone should be proud of the game that they played.”