MOUNT WASHINGTON, Ky. – Bullitt East High School was presented with a banner Wednesday morning to recognize it as a Special Olympics National Banner School, the organization’s highest honor given to schools nationwide for their commitment to inclusion.
The spirited presentation was emcee’d by ESPN’s Mike Golic, Jr. in the high school’s gym.
“Just remembering what it was like for a lot of kids that I went to high school with and then seeing the way people here treat each other on just a person-to-person basis when no one is watching, and that’s what I always think your character is, is what you’re doing when no one is watching, this is a high character school,” said Golic, Jr. during a press conference following the event.
That character is exactly why the high school received recognition as a Special Olympics Unified Champion National Banner High School. In addition, ESPN recognized the high school as a Top Five Unified Champion School National Banner Award winner. The sports network only gave that distinction to five high schools across the nation.
Three years ago, teachers Tiffany Darnell and Katie Hoben started the Project Unify at the high school. The club includes students with and without intellectual disabilities and aims to build an inclusive generation.
“When they graduate from here, they have learned fundamentals to just guide them through their life and include everybody,” said co-founder Hoben.
Students participate in various activities, but one of the club’s core focuses is sports. Members train and compete together on unified sports teams, such as basketball, which are recognized as varsity sports.
“I think a lot of times we fear what we don’t understand. So someone talks different, someone looks different, we don’t understand that so we sort of stay away from it, and this program, The Unified Champion School Program, helps break those barriers down, and we do it through the unique platforms of sports,” said Trish Mazzoni, CEO of Special Olympics Kentucky .
Bullitt East High School met 10 national standards of excellence to receive the Special Olympics’ highest honor.
Last year, two high schools in Kentucky, Calloway County and East Carter, were recognized as a Special Olympics’ National Banner School, but they weren’t chosen as an ESPN Top Five. Bullitt East High School is the only high school in the commonwealth to hold that honor.
Currently, more than 80 schools in the commonwealth participate in the Unified Champion Schools programming. There are 6,500 schools across the U.S. that participate in the program. The Special Olympics has a global goal of creating 10,000 Unified Champion Schools by 2020.