KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) – In September, Kingsport City Schools (KCS) announced the introduction of a Special Education Athletics program within the system.
This month, KCS introduced its first “Unified” team. A Unified sports team promotes social inclusion, joining people with and without intellectual disabilities to compete on the same team. Every Monday, the Dobyns-Bennett High School Unified Bowling Team meets at Warpath Lanes to practice.
“They love to come out here and they love to bowl,” said Unified bowling coach Stephen Baker. “They love to come out and participate.”
The team allows the students to compete on the same level, creating a ‘Unified’ team.
“There’s no ‘this kid’ or ‘that kid’,” said Baker. “We are all one team. We are all working towards one goal.
Baker and his wife, Michelle, are the team coaches. They both said watching the students work together and grow in their ability and passion for the sport is what makes them excited to coach.
“Seeing the pride on the faces of the student-athletes as they make improvements,” said Michelle.
“You know, we talk about it in school that you can have kids of diverse abilities and populations to get together, and they’re all one bowling team,” said Stephan.
Nick Lingerfelt was appointed athletic coordinator of the Special Education Athletics Program for the school system. He said the new bowling team will help the students receive an opportunity to compete that they wouldn’t have otherwise.
“It’s time that we all get on board because everybody or anybody deserves an opportunity to be involved,” said Lingerfelt.
For the students, they are simply excited for the chance to play.
“The team is just perfect,” said Jonathan Autry, a member of the bowling team. “It’s the perfect sport for me.”
“I like to bowl,” said team member Addy Johnston.
Lingerfelt said this is the first of many Unified sports teams to be brought to the school.