USD 457 Board approves unified bowling, considers GCAEC name change

Meghan Flynn
Garden City Telegram
Garden City High School will be adding an unified bowling team to its competitive bowling teams after the USD 457 Board of Education approved the creation of the program at its Monday meeting.

Garden City High School now has unified bowling. 

USD 457 Board of Education approved the creation of a unified bowling team at the Board's regular meeting Monday. 

Drew Thon, GCHS Activity Director and Associate Principal, said the unified sports are the joining of athletes with disabilities and athletes without, "to create a team in order to participate in an activity."

Special Olympics has take up much of the role of unified sports, Thon said, but many state associations through the country, including Kansas, are starting to see unified sports move into the district level, especially at the high school level. 

In June, KSHSAA approved unified bowling as an option for schools to participate in, Thon said. 

Unified teams are made up of athletes, or individuals 19 years or younger on Sept. 1 with a recognized, intellectual disability as defined by federal law, who is a member of the school and then they have partners, an undergraduate who is also the member of the school who may not have a disability defined by the federal government. 

Thon said unified sports are needed to create inclusion of all students within USD 457.

There's a difference between inclusion and acceptance, Thon said. It was best described to him by Kip Nichols, GCHS SPED teacher and coach of the high school's competitive bowling team, as acceptance being like everybody came to a dance and inclusion is dancing with partners.

"That's what we would do with unified bowling, it promotes inclusion through the idea of shared training together in a competitive experience together," he said. "One of the big things that it will do for our students at Garden City High School it will sweep away a lot of those preconceptions about some of our I.D. student athletes. Once they start training together, working together, competing together, they will get a much better understanding of each other."

Nichols said he hope to put together four teams for unified bowling, they would consist of three to five players with at least two being identified as the athletes and then a partner athlete. 

"We have a population of athletes that we think this is right in their wheel-house, they would love this and we have some kids in our competitive program that I think will do a great job of partnering up," he said. "We're going to be very selective in how we partner this, because we want this to be the best experience."

While a bowling coach, Nichols is first and foremost a special education teacher and is passionate about getting students involved and having a great experience with others.  

"I want our kids, our special education kids, mine in my functional program, to have the best experience possible from a program like this," he said. "The focus will be on partner athletes with student participants who provide the most positive experience for the athlete possible."

A reduced Baker System format for bowling will be used for matches, consisting of a six-games each, Nichols said. Normally, the Baker System is 12 to 20 games. The team with the highest pin fall total will be declared the winner. 

The Baker System format will ensure a truly competitive, team aspect to bowling, Nichols said. Most of collegiate bowling uses the format in competition.

"I's a true team competition," he said. "It doesn't focus on any individual achievement by anyone, but it's truly a team competition where if they work well together they are always very successful."

Six competitions are allowed throughout the season, exclusive of regional and state, Nichols said. He hopes to compete in as many tri's and quad's and tournaments as they can.

Everyone in USD 457's league is going to their Board of Education of Superintendent's Council to ask for unified bowling to be approved, Thon said. So there should be plenty of groups to compete against. 

The season starts in October and will end the Thursday before Thanksgiving break. 

Total costs associated with the creation of unified bowling in USD 457 is $13,800. 

Costs can be broken down into four categories, annual budget, coaching salary, uniforms and transportation.

The annual budget is $2,500, which is the same as what the current high school bowling team operates off of; coaching salary is $7,520; transportation is $2,020; and uniforms are $1,760.

Nichols is thrilled to get the sport going because it levels the playing field for SPED students.

"The excitement for me is not getting to see them throw the first ball, it's getting to see them put on that Garden City Buffalo uniform and represent their school, because so many kids in our world don't get that opportunity and now they're going to be on that same level, that same playing field with everybody else," he said. "That's amazing to me."

Board member Tim Hannigan is also excited for the program. 

"As someone who has been pretty critical of additional sports programs ... to the school district I have to tell you that this seems very much about the spirit of sport, I'm excited," he said.

 In other business, the Board discussed a possible name change for the Garden City Alternate Education Center and those under it's umbrella in J.D. Adams Hall including, but not limited to, the Garden City Alternate High School, Garden City Virtual Academy, Therapeutic Education Program and the Day School. 

Lucas Sullivan, principal of GCAEC, said he would like to change the name to Garden City Achieve at J.D. Adams Hall as a way to change the culture around the non-traditional learning environment in a positive way. 

Sullivan said there is a stigma that students that attend GCAEC are bad kids, but that's not the case. 

"These are awesome kids, some have chosen to be there, our because we offer 21 credits, so you can get done early ... and can get on with career and college," he said. "So, it's not necessarily bad kids, we have kids that weren't successful in another setting. Garden City High School is one of the best 6A, I think the best 6A school in the state, but not every kid is successful in a building of 2,000 kids."

It could also boost the morale of students and staff in the building, Sullivan said.

"Our building is kind of like a jigsaw puzzle all thrown out onto the floor, and with all the different pieces like adaptive P.E. and the Therapeutic School and the Virtual Academy. How do we bring all those pieces together?" he said. "I think a new logo and a name change to where we can bring all the pieces together and have those pieces interact."

The change would also remove the word "alternative" from diplomas, Sullivan said, which can make a difference in students' lives.

"There's some studies and research, and it's probably something a little bit older, but in front of a military board or in front of a college and there's two students, one that graduated from a school that says alternative and a school that's not an alternative, the student that was not from an alternative a lot of times, they would take that student," he said. "We'd like part of this to be when you graduate that it would be off the diploma."

No decision was made on name change. 

Board member Lara Bors said she wanted to go through the Board's two-step process before making a change.

"Being able to have it out there for the community to hear, I really feel like we need to have their input as well ... although, I'm supportive, I think it's a great idea," she said.