GG Blog: Sports for All
Sports for All: Working to Get Children with Physical Disabilities “Off the Sidelines and into the Game”
Posted at Disability Blog
By Guest Blogger Terri Hickman Grunduski, Co-Founder, Grunduski Group and mother of two
The weather is cooling down, traffic is picking up, and school busses full of eager students adorn the streets early mornings; it is that time of year again – everyone is going back to school! When I think of going back to school, I think about all of the fun experiences that accompanied my full days of learning – making new friends, taking new classes, and playing sports after school. Being active was part of who I was, and playing team sports – softball, basketball, dance team and swimming – prepared me for many of life’s lessons as I’ve traveled life’s road. These lessons included teamwork, working towards a common goal, perseverance, determination, and even how to be a gracious winner (as well as how to be a good sport, especially when I didn’t win). Sports and life were intertwined for me.
Although I wasn’t the best player on these teams, I now know the lessons I learned through sports were important to my development and confidence building, not to mention crucial to my understanding of being cardiovascularly fit, and contributing to my health and well-being. As a mom with two children of my own, the sports legacy and lessons continue, with my family spending most weekends either at the ballpark or the gym, playing baseball, soccer and basketball.
I can’t imagine a year without these opportunities and yet, as I go about my day-to-day work, I’ve encountered many children that have gone a lifetime without picking up a ball of any kind, playing on a team, or even looking forward to being active. Many children who have not had the same opportunities that I have had. That is, until now.
How can this be? Can it be true that there are young people with physical disabilities who have NEVER had the chance to throw a football, dribble a basketball or play on a team? As a parent, I can’t imagine my children not having the opportunity to play organized sports – to not have had the opportunity to experience the thrill of scoring the winning goal, feeling the passion of competitive play, or even working with teammates whose relationships can last a lifetime. Many young people with disabilities have never even been asked to play a sport nor had any type of team sports opportunity presented to them. It is a difficult concept for me to wrap my brain around, but I blog today to share this story and to help bring awareness to this issue.
Eleven years ago I was asked to join the Board of Directors for a then, young charitable organization in Georgia called AAASP – the American Association of Adapted Sports Programs.
I had worked for the local hockey team, the Atlanta Thrashers, and was introduced to AAASP through a mutual friend. AAASP works in partnership with education agencies in the U.S. to establish programs, policies, procedures and regulations in interscholastic adapted sports for students with physical disabilities. They provide services to local education agencies, state high school associations, and state departments of education in extracurricular adapted athletics for children with physical disabilities attending grades 1-12. (AAASP programs improve student well-being, while positively influencing total student development.)
I attended many games – from power hockey to wheelchair basketball to wheelchair handball. I saw young athletes enjoying the many benefits of being active – and thriving in team sports. I was amazed at the level of play for many of these athletes, and smiled to see them compete on different levels, bonding with each other and enjoying it all! Yet I am sad to share that many years later, people with disabilities in other parts of the country are still sidelined, struggling to find opportunities to play.
In January of this year, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights issued a “Dear Colleague” letter, sharing guidelines to help schools meet their obligations under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to provide extracurricular athletic opportunities for students with disabilities in their school communities. It was a wonderful reminder to all of us that schools, charitable organizations and communities need to continue working to provide opportunities for these “sidelined” students. Not only because it is the law, but because it is the right thing to do.
ALL students should have equal access to opportunities – regardless of gender, race, religion and physical abilities. I am encouraged to hear about the partnerships beginning to form to build an infrastructure for the nation’s sidelined athletes. However, we all must get involved and share our stories so that children with physical disabilities have these opportunities now.
Building a sports program at your school or in your county for people with physical disabilities is doable. It requires the same effort as programs for able-bodied students – and can leave a legacy for years to come. AAASP has built a five-step template for school systems to get started; it just takes a dedicated person and a cooperative Athletic Director to make it work. It’s simple. And needed. Sports is that universal language that pulls people together, and now is the time.
We’re reminded by so many today – doctors and others in the medical profession, activists, physical trainers – to exercise at least 30 minutes a day for better cardiovascular health. Let’s work to get children with disabilities “off the sidelines and into the game,” to encourage everyone to be healthier, and try to avoid many of the pitfalls people with disabilities face. Let’s support sports for all!
For more information on sports for all in our nation’s schools, please visit the American Association of Adapted Sports Programs at www.adaptedsports.org/.
Terri Hickman Grunduski co-founded the Grunduski Group to fill a need in the sports and philanthropy worlds, and to help support and guide those interested in building their legacies through Family Foundations and other philanthropic endeavors. Terri was formerly a Board Member for the American Association of Adapted Sports Programs (AAASP), and is now working with the association to further their mission through public relations support, partnerships and awareness.