Bert Church receives Special Olympics Alberta award

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Bert Church High School (BCHS) was honoured at the Special Olympics Alberta 37th Annual Awards event and Annual General Meeting Oct. 14 when it was named the 2017 recipient of the Unified School award.

The award is handed out annually to the school that best exemplifies commitment and dedication to the Special Olympics Alberta Unified Sports program, helping to grow the program across the province.

“We were very excited,” said BCHS Learning Support Teacher Cynthia Dahl. “It makes us so proud of what we are doing here.

“It’s so worth it just to see the friendship and bonding that takes place with the students.”

During the 2015/16 school year, Special Olympics Alberta and the Alberta Schools’ Athletic Association introduced the Unified Sports program to help provide students with special needs the opportunity to take part in sports, make friends and gain the sense of being part of a team.

BCHS was one of the earliest schools to join the program and has been involved ever since.

“When we go to the events, (the Special Olympic athletes) get to wear the Chargers uniform and become Chargers,” Dahl said. “Then they get that sense of being part of a school.”

She said the school has approximately 30 students involved with the program that go to events, represent their school and compete in events such as basketball, bocce and bean bag toss.

Unified Sports also has a track and field component, but BCHS hasn’t taken part in that because the event usually falls on the same week as the school’s graduation.

Dahl said the school hopes to eventually take part in the track and field event.

“We really want to, it just depends on timing and if we can get there,” she said.

Dahl said she has seen in increased growth in students getting involved with Unified Sports since it was introduced and hopes to see more support in future years.

“It has grown so much that I think it will keep expanding in different ways as the years go on,” Dahl said. “Right now they do big events in Calgary and Edmonton, but those are getting so big.”

BCHS hosted the Unified Sport Bean Bag Toss event earlier this year and was practicing for its involvement in this year’s bocce event, which happened Oct. 17 in Calgary.

“There is such a good feeling at these events. There are friendships between the athlete and there partners,” Dahl said. “I have seen such growth in the students.

“It’s like the highlight of the year when we go to the events…. They love it, they’re excited, they ask about it. They want to do it and they ask when the next events are.”

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