The Special Olympics New Hampshire Unified Champion Schools program currently has 65 schools participating and is on track to make it 75 by the end of 2020. The Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools® (UCS) strategy is aimed at promoting social inclusion by uniting students with and without intellectual disabilities and offering an avenue for them to share their school experience together. The goal of UCS is to be a catalyst within schools to promote communities of inclusion and respect through sports.
At SONH, the Schools Team is at the program’s helm. Our “home team” is led by former athlete, coach, and administrator Pete Cofran who is our Director of Schools. Pete began his career by working at his alma mater Plymouth State College for 28 years, including 23 years in the Department of Athletics. He coached softball for 25 years and girls’ basketball for 12 years at Plymouth Regional High School and became Director of Athletics at Newfound Regional High School for 12 years where he established Unified Soccer in 2016 and Unified Basketball in 2017. Pete has been Past President of the NH Softball Coaches Association, NH Coaches Association, and NH Athletic Directors Association. Currently, he is on the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association Mentoring Committee.
Assisting Pete through collecting, managing, and disseminating data and information is Schools Manager Ryan Grogan. Ryan graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 2016 where he majored in History. Upon graduation Ryan served in AmeriCorps through the Victims Assistance Program then worked for Prescott Park Arts Festival in Portsmouth, NH. In April 2019, Ryan joined Special Olympics NH as the Special Events Coordinator where he assisted with our Law Enforcement Torch Run, Holiday Auction and Winter Water Sports until transitioning to his current role this summer.
Rounding out the team is Laurie Belanger. Laurie has been a part time Schools Manager with SONH for four years. For more than 30 years, she has been a school counselor at Gilford High School, where her favorite role is Unified Coach and Club Advisor.
The roster of Unified Champion schools are split up among the three staff to provide better communication and support for each school.
The base of the program is Unified Sports where people with and without intellectual disabilities compete together as teammates. Schools can compete in our traditional competitions (Winter Games, Basketball, Summer Games, Golf, Softball, Bowling or Fitness), SONH Middle School Unified Sports (Basketball, Fitness), Middle School Championships (Cornhole, Track Relay, Softball Throw) and/or NHIAA Unified Sports for High Schools (Soccer, Basketball, Track & Field, Volleyball).
There are two additional components to the UCS program. Inclusive Youth Leadership and Whole School Engagement. Inclusive Youth Leadership can include school clubs and activities. Whole School Engagement is a critical component of UCS and relates to things like Unified Pep Rallies, Respect or Spread the Word Campaigns, Fans in the Stands, and SONH Winter Water Sports like the High School Penguin Plunge and the Cool Schools Winni-Dip.
The Schools Team recently published the Special Olympics New Hampshire Unified Champion Schools Playbook which can be found on our website here. The playbook is designed to be a tool for schools, but it provides a wealth of information for anyone in New Hampshire that has an interest in the Unified programs in our schools. Anyone wishing to learn more can email Schools Manager Ryan Grogan at RyanG@sonh.org.