May 10 2018 the RSL Foundation together with MLS, ESPN and Special Olympics Utah have partnered to create the RSL Unified Soccer Team. Unified soccer is a program that many schools offer around the state.
Representatives of the program say, “it joins people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team. It was inspired by the simple principle: training together and playing together is a quick path to friendship and understanding.”
5 years ago JoAnn Plant began the unified sports program along John Olsen here at Hillcrest High. Plant is a Special education teacher and Olsen is the athletic director at Hillcrest. Together they helped shape this program into what it is today.
“These kids work harder just to be in school and make it for an eight-hour day than any kid in the world,” Plant said.
At Hillcrest High the program has made an impact on the students involved. “I think it is important to have a program like this because kids like the ones in the special ed class never get a chance to be involved in their school, like an after school club or a sports team, so actually giving them a chance to go out there and let them play soccer for the school like an actual team gives them hope to not give up and not feel less because of some challenges in their lives.” says sophomore Cesar Valdivia.
At Hillcrest High many students are involved. And at games the men’s soccer team comes and supports the students. “The program itself brings the student body together for a wonderful cause. I decided to join because it is a great service opportunity for Latinos In Action, but that’s not the main reason why, why I joined was because most of the times the kids in special ed classes do not have the chance to play for a high school team.” says Cesar Valdivia.
“This affects students with disabilities in the best way possible, playing soccer with these students has really opened my eyes and my heart. They are all such spectacular human beings and I feel so honored to have the opportunity to play with them. They absolutely love the game and love the team, we are like a family!” says sophomore Yovanni Valdez.
The state games for the huskies was held May 5th. Hillcrest won first place in Division B. Hillcrest’s unified team will represent Utah in the Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle this summer. Ten athletes will be able to attend and represent Hillcrest.
Overall this program is an amazing part of Hillcrest. It brings the school together and impacts the student body in great way. Go Huskies!