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Special Honor for Special Program

Sparta has been named a National Unified Champion School for its dedication to establishing relationships between Special Olympics athletes and their peers without disabilities.

Only three Michigan schools and 83 nationally have received this recognition, said high school Principal Matt Spencer.

“Often our community members with disabilities struggle to form deep connections with their peers without disabilities,” said Renee Wyman, teacher with the Mild Cognitive Impaired Program.

A recent ceremony unveiled the honorary banner in the high school gymnasium

“With this Unified Sports idea we form these bonds on courts and fields in the throes of real competition.”

Sparta High School has Unified teams in skiing, snowboarding, basketball, and soon track and field.

The effort reaches beyond sports. “Service projects like our Best Prom Ever impacting thousands each year, and student leadership teams that include students with disabilities in organizing and running athletic events, campaigns, and service projects” contributed to the recognition, said Wyman.

Sparta also has joined other area schools to form a Michigan High School Athletic Association recognized basketball league. The local OK conference is in competition to be the first in the state to form a Unified Champion School league, which will host and compete in evening events during the school basketball season.

It is a way to change whole communities and to build love and acceptance for all, Wyman said, adding, “It is truly a game-changer.”

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Janice Holst
Janice Holst was a reporter for SNN covering Kent City and Sparta. She has been both a teacher and a journalist. A former MLive reporter, she wrote features and covered local government and schools for Advance Newspapers for nearly two decades. She also was a recipe columnist and wrote features for Mature Life Style and occasional entertainment pieces for On The Town magazines. She lives in Sparta Township and enjoys spending some of her retirement hours writing the stories of the northern Kent County school districts.

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