Not many students at Montclair State are aware of the school’s heartwarming and boundary breaking sport’s club, Unified Sports.
Every weekend this program gives students the chance to work with New Jersey Special Olympic Athletes by engaging in competitive sports at the student Recreation Center.
“Our goal here is to build friendships, break stereotypes and build some social inclusion,” says Nicole Francis, one of the co-Presidents of the MSU chapter of Unified Sports.
Most importantly, Francis says, it’s all about having a good time. Along with her fellow president Meagan Weiss, Francis says they have been able to increase the competition for the club. What started last winter as a basketball league has evolved this fall to include indoor soccer. The games are held every Saturday or Sunday at the Recreation Center. In the winter, basketball is the focus of the club. Each game is five-on-five with a mixture of two Unified Sports members and three Special Olympic athletes.
Although this club may give off the appearance of being just a regular intramural sport, the programs underlying theme of social acceptance breaks boundaries and perceptions around athletes with certain disabilities.
“It seems a lot of students believe the stereotypes that most of us think of when we hear Special Ed,” says Francis. “That these games will not be fun. That they will have to baby these athletes, and that they are uncomfortable working with special needs people.”
All one has to do is stop by the Rec Center on a Saturday or Sunday, and if you’re fortunate enough to catch a game or two, you will see how much fun the players and club members have competing against one another.
“You could not tell that many of our athletes even have disabilities,” Francis said. “This is all for social inclusion, and these athletes want to be accepted just as any other kid does.”
Special Olympic athlete, Eric Specht said he likes what the students representing Unified Sports do for him and other athletes. “They’re really good people to be around,” Specht says. “A bunch of role models.”
The club truly brings a positive impact upon the lives of Special Olympic athletes. It also influences students to give back to the community and work well with others that may be different from them. Montclair students find just as much joy and appreciation as the athletes they play against.
“I never leave a game on Sunday without a smile on my face,” says sophomore Kasey McGuire.
The games have the same impact on Sophomore Alexa Dipero, who said she can not wait for Sunday’s now. “It’s amazing the feeling you get playing with the athletes and how excited they get when they do something good like scoring a goal,” says Dipero. “Its awesome actually working with them and getting to know them on a personal level.”
Special Olympic Athlete Brian Pitt sums up his experiences with Unified Sports Club members this way: “Getting involved with your peers, making some friends, and being apart of family.”
Despite the competitiveness of the league, the atmosphere is full of excitement and fun, and delivers lessons.
“Not only am I helping others and impacting others lives, but that each and every athlete that I meet makes me a better person and teaches me more about life than any school could,” said Francis. “ “It is a wonderful feeling knowing that you are making a huge impact on other’s lives. There is so much we take for granted, and these athletes really make us appreciate the little things in life.”
If you would like to join Unified sports or learn more about it, visit their MSU website and apply, its free!
Also, check out their Facebook page at
Montclair State | New Jersey